709 carat Sierra Leone 'Peace diamond' sold in NY auction

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A huge so-called "peace diamond" sold by the government of Sierra Leone to discourage crime-tainted "blood diamonds" fetched US$6.5 million on Monday.

"It will encourage all the diggers back home", Chief Paul Ngaba Saquee, head of Sierra Leone's eastern Kono district, where the diamond was found in March, told the news conference. "We did whatever we could and that's the best price that we can get from the market today", he said.

The egg-sized, 709-carat diamond found by a Christian pastor was bought at auction in NY by Laurence Graff, a British billionaire and jeweller, according to the Rapaport Group, an worldwide diamond trading network that handled the sale.

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The Rapaport Group has dubbed the stone the "peace diamond" and says its sale "will provide vital lifesaving infrastructure to the area where the diamond was found".

It was bought by British luxury jeweller Laurence Graff, said Martin Rapaport, chairman of Rapaport Group, a network of diamond companies that managed the auction.

Officials said they also hoped the sale will help combat the West African country's illicit diamond trade.

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The gem was first auctioned in Freetown for US$7.07 million earlier this year, but the government rejected the offer.

In the past, "conflict diamonds" funded warlords and their campaigns during a decade of civil war in the small country.

The United Nations lifted a ban on diamond exports from Sierra Leone in 2003, though the $113 million sector is plagued by smuggling.

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