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NGOs Welcome Prospective US Chairmanship of Troubled Kimberley Process

The United States will assume the Kimberley chair in January, serving for one year, and South Africa will step into the chair at the beginning of 2013, ensuring a certain continuity to leadership of the group, sources said

Non-governmental organizations involved in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme on Monday hailed the watchdog group's decision late last week to vote the United States into the vacant position of vice chair, a stepping stone to the chair itself in 2012.

Civic activists say that with Washington in the chair, the progressive reforms that are needed to keep the Kimberley Process focused on its mission of keeping so-called blood diamonds out of global markets are more likely to be achieved.

The World Diamond Council also hailed the decision to have the United States and then South Africa lead the group in the next two years, calling it a "historic success."

The United States will assume the Kimberley chair in January, serving for one year, and South Africa will step into the chair at the beginning of 2013.

US State Department Special Adviser for Conflict Diamonds Brad Brooks-Rubin told VOA that tells Washington is pleased with the developments in Kimberley.

Research Director Allan Martin of Partnership Africa Canada said the US election to the deputy chair was the only progressive development at the recent meeting.

Senior Africa researcher Tiseke Kasambala of Human Rights Watch said her organization hopes the United States will push for reform within Kimberley, in particular to focus the organization on human rights violations more broadly defined

The agreement on Kimberley's future leadership was made possible by the ratification by group members last week of an agreement allowing the export of rough diamonds from Zimbabwe's controversial Marange field under Kimberley supervision.

Though incumbent Kimberley Chairman Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo upon taking office this year had unilaterally declared that Zimbabwe could sell its diamonds where it liked, Western nations maintained an embargo on Marange gems saying human rights and market transparency issues remained to be resolved.

The Kimberley meeting also accepted a proposal to create a permanent secretariat for the group to enhance its structure and better maintain continuity in view of the transfer of the Kimberley chair from one country to another every year.

The group issued an ultimatum to Venezuela, warning that unless it submitted annual reports and other data by December 20 it would be removed from the body.

Despite much criticism of Yamba's leadership, the World Diamond Council paid tribute to the role played by Yamba, DRC minister of mines.

“The agreements approved and adopted by the KP on Marange, as well as on other important issues, including measures on reform, exhibit beyond doubt that the Kimberley Process is effective, resilient and viable," the World Diamond Council said.

"The diamond industry is pleased with the continuing progress of the KP and we welcome the decision of the United States and South Africa to work together to provide leadership for the next two years,” the WDC added.