ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Spanish authorities have arrested a businessman with dual American-Belgian citizenship who has been accused of enslavement and pillaging “blood diamonds” during Sierra Leone’s civil war, a legal aid group said.
Michael Desaedeleer was arrested in Spain last week based on a complaint filed in 2011 in Belgium, said Civitas Maxima, a Geneva-based organization that provides legal representation for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The complaint from several Sierra Leone citizens details Desaedeleer’s alleged crimes in the West African nation’s eastern Kono district between 1999 and 2001, the group said in a statement late Saturday.
He is the first businessman to be arrested on international charges of pillaging blood diamonds and enslaving civilians, said Alain Werner, the group’s director, who hailed the case as a “landmark.”
Tens of thousands of people died during Sierra Leone’s civil war from 1991 to 2002, during which fighters forced civilians to mine so-called “blood diamonds.”
In Kono district, the Revolutionary United Front rebel group enslaved civilians in diamond pits, delivering the proceeds to Liberia’s then-President Charles Taylor, Civitas Maxima said.
Taylor received a 50-year sentence in May 2012 for supporting the rebels in exchange for the diamonds.
The case against Desaedeleer could shed new light on the blood diamond trade, said Ibrahim Tommy, executive director of the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
“This is another significant step forward in our collective efforts at ensuring accountability for the crimes that occurred during the conflict in Sierra Leone,” Tommy said.
ROBBIE COREY-BOULET, Associated Press
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