Liberia Suspects Illegal Diamond Mining Activity, Minister Denies Flogging Miners

150 150 Rapaport News

RAPAPORT… Liberia’s deputy minister of Lands, Mines and Energy said that despite the country’s success to curb illegal diamond trading, and the country’s acceptance into the Kimberley Process, diamonds are now being mined illegally in the western region of the country. Liberia lifted mining sanctions in July and has since approved 20 licenses to class C miners out of some 3,000 applications thus far.

Minister Kpandel Fayiah, who overseas the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in Liberia, named the western town of Kumgbor as the top offender and warned those responsible for illegal mining that they must stop immediately or face the consequences.

Due to the topographical makeup of Liberia, coupled with dense forests and extremely poor road conditions, the government admits it is simply not possible to adequately and immediately quell illicit diamond mining at once.

The minister said though that the government put an incentive program in place to motivate citizens into reporting illegal activities whether it be either illegal mining or diamond trading. Anyone providing information on such activity is rewarded with 30 percent of the value of rough diamonds confiscated.

Liberia’s director of mining at the Ministry,  Matenokay Tingban, blames people from Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea and other neighboring countries for the illegal diamond mining. He urged local miners to organize and protect their own interests and activities from foreigners.

STAR Radio of Liberia also quoted Tingban this week denying that he ordered the flogging of illegal miners. The broadcast station reported that dozens of miners have fled Kumgbor in the wake of this activity.

The vice president of Liberia’s Gold and Diamond Brokers Association, Siaka Conneh, told STAR Radio that security officers from the American Mining Associates flogged the miners and their dependents under the direction of the Ministry.

The miners reportedly provided photographs of those injured during the flogging episodes to Conneh.

Tingban told STAR he instructed his agents to prevent illegal miners from operating in the area and counted more than 100 illegal miners operating in the Kumgbor diamond field. Tingban said the Liberia National Police initially clashed with the illegal miners and then the miners fled, but some were arrested and jailed in Bopolu.

In June 2006, as reported by Rapaport News, American Mining Associates has a large-scale diamond operation in Liberia and had at that time requested authorities to remove about 14,000 residents living on land the company claimed as its own concession. One year earlier the mining company, which reportedly mined two stones a month while Liberia’s diamond sanctions were in place, was found by a panel of experts at the United Nations to have built itself far in excess of a “small operation.” The panel also reported that American Mining Associates hadn’t filed an exploration plan and was ordered to cease operations.

An anonymous poster on the STAR Radio website commented on the recent events in Kumgbor by asking if the government had created jobs for the people who are being called “illegal miners.”

“Where [are] the proceed[s] from diamonds gone for over twenty decades now when the people of Kumgbor don’t have good roads nor drinking water? Please stop causing hardship for the poor people who can not be selected as ministers like you. Don’t create [the] Niger Delta problem [here] in Liberia,” the poster wrote.

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