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New DiCaprio Film Rattles Diamond Industry

By Tova Cohen

"The Blood Diamond," a film in production starring Leonardo DiCaprio, could hurt diamond sales and the livelihoods of people in Africa, industry leaders warned on Tuesday.

The Warner Brothers film being shot in Africa shows how "conflict diamonds" financed bloody civil wars. DiCaprio portrays a mercenary jailed for smuggling in Sierra Leone, where a civil war lasting until 2002 killed 50,000 people.

Industry officials attending the opening of the World Diamond Congress said the situation with conflict diamonds had dramatically improved in recent years and expressed concern that the movie would not reflect this.

"The problem of conflict diamonds is practically over," Shmuel Schnitzer, outgoing president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), told Reuters at the conference in Tel Aviv, among the world's top diamond cutting and trading centers.

"To show a film that will lead the public to think the situation is still the same is an injustice to our industry which has done so much," he said.

In a press release issued in February, Warner Bros. Pictures said The Blood Diamond, starring DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly, had started production in South Africa and Mozambique.

It did not say when it will be released and company officials could not be reached for comment. The unofficial IMDb movie database has the U.S. release date as January, 2007.

Shopping Season

The diamond industry fears the movie could hurt sales, especially if it hits theatres around the end of the year during the peak holiday shopping season.

"The people that the movie is trying to help could be hurt the most if it's left without an explanation since livelihoods in Africa depend on income from diamonds," said Eli Izhakoff, chairman and CEO of the World Diamond Council (WDC).

"It will hurt them with a downturn in sales. It can have an adverse effect on all of Africa," Izhakoff said.

He and other diamond industry officials say the situation has changed radically since a system of certification for rough diamonds known as the Kimberley Process was instituted in 2000.

The WDC is currently negotiating with the movie studio to add a scene at the end that would show the implementation of the Kimberley Process.

"They are hearing us and getting documentation and evidence," Izhakoff said. "When all is said and done, they want to be fair."

According to Schnitzer, conflict diamonds account for only 0.2 percent of the world's rough diamonds, down from 3-4 percent a few years ago, but industry and human rights groups differ on how much the practice persists.

Amnesty International, which launched a Valentine's Day campaign against conflict diamonds, said that diamonds mined in rebel-held areas of West Africa's Ivory Coast were still reaching the international market.

Additional reporting by Steven Scheer

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