DAKAR (Reuters) – Spanish authorities have arrested a American man on charges of enslavement and diamond pillaging during Sierra Leone’s civil war, a victims’ association said on Saturday.
Michel Desaedeleer, who has U.S. and Belgian citizenship, is suspected of forcing enslaved civilians to mine for diamonds in Sierra Leone’s eastern district of Kono between 1999-2001, according to Swiss-based Civitas Maxima.
During Sierra Leone’s long conflict, the diamonds were sent to neighboring Liberia where former President Charles Taylor used the proceeds to finance weapons for rebels.
“(The case) will help to raise awareness of the pivotal role played by financial actors in the trade of mineral resources that fuel armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere,” said Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, which has been working for years to document the crimes and assist victims.
A Belgian investigation led to a European arrest warrant being issued against Desaedeleer earlier this year. He is normally resident in the United States.
More than 50,000 people died in the 11-year conflict and many more were left maimed by the notorious Revolutionary United Front. Taylor is now serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes.
(Reporting by Emma Farge)