US takes helm of troubled 'blood diamond' monitor

The United States is taking over the leadership of the international body charged with monitoring and preventing the sale of blood diamonds, just a month after a major human rights watchdog quit, accusing the group of refusing to address links between gems, violence and tyranny.

The State Department announced on Thursday that it had named career diplomat Gillian Milovanovic to serve as chair of the Kimberley Process, which is supposed to keep blood diamonds off the market. Milovanovic, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali and Macedonia with experience in South Africa and Botswana, will be the first woman to lead the group.

The Kimberley Process, founded in 2003, groups the diamond industry, rights groups and 75 countries to certify rough diamonds as "conflict-free" to assure purchasers they are not funding violence. It was born after wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia that were fueled by "blood diamonds." However, the project has been criticized for being ineffectual and allowing tainted gems onto the market.

The rights group Global Witness left the body in December, alleging it had failed in Ivory Coast, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, after the Kimberley Process in November agreed to let Zimbabwe trade some $2 billion in diamonds from fields where critics say miners have been tortured. Zimbabwe denies allegations of human rights abuses in the fields.

The departure of Global Witness raised new questions about the credibility of the process. At the time, the Obama administration said it understood and appreciated the group's concerns. But the State Depatment said the U.S. would stay in the body to address those "challenges" and to push it to "demonstrate the capacity to implement reforms and restore its credibility," particularly as the incoming chair.