RAPAPORT... Non-governmental organization Global Witness said Thursday that Cote d'Ivoire's government is indirectly allowing rebel groups fund through illegal taxation of diamonds and cocoa.
A Global Witness mission to the country in February found that despite a 2007 agreement between the rebel held north and government controlled south to work toward peace, the north was still collecting taxes on diamonds and cocoa and keeping the revenue. Diamonds leaving the country from the rebel-held north have already been cited as the last remaining conflict diamonds by the NGO, and the World Diamond Council and United Nations.
Global Witness called upon the government and the north's New Force rebels to end “this extortion” and abolish the taxation.
“The system of parallel and illegitimate taxes only helps fuel the corruption,” said Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness. “This is an economic war that’s delaying the reunification of the country.”
Global Witness campaigner Mari Lopez said diamond diggers who sell their diamonds are being taxed 8 percent by the rebels, who were giving them permission to sell the stones. It was not clear where the stones were being taken next.
A 2007 report on the country’s cocoa trade found that the rebels were collected around $30 million a year through the taxation system. A figure for the diamond trade was not provided.
“All the taxes that the rebels took should be abolished and the receipts that they got from all the taxes and information on how this money was used should be published,” Alley said.
Finally, all the taxes collected to date, should go back to the state which should maintain transparency of its use, he added.
Following a coupe attempt in 2002 by northern rebels, five years of conflict divided the country, which has since been split by a kilometer-wide buffer zone. In 2007 an agreement was broked by the United Nations to share power and the north's New Forces leader Guillaume Soro was appointed prime minister. The country is suppose to hold general elections at some point in second half of 2008, but the date has already slipped four times since 2005.