ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) – Smugglers in war-divided Ivory Coast are violating a United Nations-imposed ban on diamond sales, illegally exporting the gems to neighboring countries for overseas sales, according to a draft U.N. report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

The illegal trade in “conflict diamonds” has long fueled African wars and the U.N. Security Council imposed the diamond embargo on Ivory Coast in a bid to keep rebels in the turbulent country from profiting from the gems.

The draft report, which has not yet been published, says $9 million to $24 million worth of diamonds mined in the rebel-held north of the West African country are being sold on the international market each year via brokers in Ghana and Mali.

Ivory Coast has been split in two since fighting erupted in 2002, and rebels control the arid northern half. About 10,000 U.N. and French peacekeepers have been deployed to maintain a fragile peace.

Rebel officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the report’s findings.

Earlier this year, U.N. experts compiling the report visited five diamond mining sites controlled by the New Forces rebel movement.

The report identified four major diamond dealers – a Ivorian, a Malian, a Belgian and another whose nationality was not known – in the northern rebel town of Seguela. It also cited two Belgian buyers who relocated to Ghana following the outbreak of Ivory Coast’s war.

A 60 percent rise in diamond exports from Ghana since 2000 could be explained by U.N. embargoes on Ivorian and Liberian diamonds, the report said.

Ivorian rebels impose taxes on trucks carrying goods through their territory to finance their activities and admit to smuggling cocoa to neighboring countries.

Porous borders and poor controls are to blame for the illicit diamond trade, according to the U.N. report, which urged Ghana and Mali to take steps to prevent Ivorian diamonds from being smuggled through their territory.

The diamond ban made Ivory Coast part of the “Kimberley Process,” established in 2002 to help control conflict diamonds – sometimes called “blood diamonds” – that have fueled and funded wars that killed millions in Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The process is designed to track diamonds from mines to jewelry display cases, certifying the origin of each stone.

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