The Guardian June 7, 2000


Sierra Leone:
Diamonds are imperialism's best friend

British Royal Marines, sent to Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone, 
ostensibly to evacuate British nationals, have now been deployed against 
the forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). At the same time, 
Britain is re-arming the Sierra Leone army  supplying 10,000 rifles and 
dispatching "military advisers".

Sierra Leone won independence from Britain in 1961 but its people continue 
to live in poverty and crisis as the United States, Britain and other 
imperialist powers  often acting through proxy governments in Nigeria and 
Liberia  keep the country destabilised in order to continue robbing 
Sierra Leone's enormous natural wealth of diamonds, bauxite, cocoa and 
coffee. Between 1930 and 1996, Sierra Leone produced US$15 billion in rough 
diamonds.

Although Britain's Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, talked about "winding 
down" the present British military presence, he refuses to set a date for 
their final withdrawal or even explain the purpose of their mission.

A civil war has raged in Sierra Leone since 1991. Some 74,000 people have 
died in this imperialist-fostered civil war while half a million refugees 
have been forced into neighbouring Liberia and Guinea-Conakry. 

Africa's NATO

In 1998 President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was returned to power by troops of the 
Economic Community of West African States. This 19-country, Nigerian-led 
force is sometimes called the "African NATO".

In July 1999 Kabbah's government signed a peace accord with two rebel 
armies  the Liberia-based RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council 
(AFRC)  and brought their members into a governing coalition. The peace 
accord broke down early this year after RUF charged the government and AFRC 
with violating the agreement.

The imperialist powers, Britain, France and the US, declined to send in 
their own troops at that time, preferring to have a so-called United 
Nations "peacekeeping" force of 8,700 troops from Africa and the Middle 
East do the dirty work for them and help prop up the Kabbah government.

However, the Kabbah government could barely hold on to the capital let 
alone mount an offensive on their own against the RUF, whose forces in late 
April captured hundreds of UN troops, most of whom they have now released.

With the RUF closing on the capital, the imperialists, afraid that they 
would lose their profit pipeline to Sierra Leone's diamonds, began to 
intervene with their own military forces.

British marines and SAS pathfinder scouts were deployed, backed up by an 
aircraft carrier and other ships. A heavily armed US Navy warship has also 
been sent to the area and US planes are airlifting Bangladeshi troops into 
Sierra Leone. European Union forces are poised to intervene if necessary.

Then there are the diamond companies like DeBeers, which have private 
armies (Sandline International, for example.) 

DeBeers' Chairperson Nickey Oppenheimer is a long-time supporter of the 
counter-revolutionary UNITA forces in Angola. Oppenheimer supplied UNITA 
with US$5 billion in exchange for diamonds they illegally mined in the 
areas they occupied in that country. It is this financial support that has 
helped keep this devastating war in Angola going for 25 years.

The direct military intervention of British forces is yet another example 
of blatant neo-colonialism. The question of who rules in Sierra Leone 
should be a matter for the people who live there to decide. Imperialist 
intervention can only benefit the Anglo-American mineral companies and 
those Sierra Leonians who serve them. 

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