Banning ‘Conflict Gems’ Not Easy, UT Geologist Says

KNOXVILLE — More research is needed to distinguish legally mined diamonds from the black-market stones used to finance bloody revolutions, a University of Tennessee geologist said Thursday.

Dr. Larry Taylor, head of UT’s Planetary Geosciences Institute, recently briefed a White House panel on “conflict diamonds” smuggled from central African countries like Sierra Leone, Angola, and Congo and sold to fund guerrilla warfare.

“White House officials wanted a simple ‘litmus’ test for workers to identify these diamonds in the field,” Taylor said. “We couldn’t do that instantaneously or with any certainty, especially with some forensic testing method that would stand up in court.”

International authorities seek to keep conflict diamonds off the world market and dry up the funds that arm the rebels, Taylor said.

Taylor, whose research includes work with the Russian Diamond Company in Siberia, said it is difficult to obtain many diamonds from a particular locality. DeBeers, the company that controls about 80 percent of the world supply, does not identify its gems by place of origin, he said.

“Diamonds can be identified by their mineral inclusions, but little research has been done to link the impurities to geographical areas,” Taylor said. “We need more diamonds from known localities to gather sufficient statistics.”

Officials have discussed using a high-tech method such as a gallium ion beam to mark individual stones, but it may be difficult to tag that many diamonds, Taylor said.

The most promising solution is certifying parcels of diamonds at their point of origin and banning those without a valid certificate from world gem markets, he said.

“It is practically impossible to stop the outflow of conflict diamonds into the world-s markets,” Taylor said. “But if we can put up enough stumbling blocks to their trade, it should deter the financing of the rebel armies.”