The arrest of 'blood diamond' trafficker was hailed as a landmark. Archive photo: Issouf Sanogo / AFP
Spanish authorities have arrested a Belgian-American man on charges of enslavement and diamond pillaging during Sierra Leone's decade long civil war.
Police arrested Michel Desaedeleer, who has US and Belgian citizenship, at Malaga airport on Friday on a European arrest warrant issued by Belgian authorities just as he was about to board a flight to the United States, police said in a statement.
The 64 year-old is suspected of having illegally trafficked diamonds during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, which was partly funded by the trade in illicit gems, known as "blood diamonds", police said in a statement.
"In addition he led the extraction work in the fields, at least in the weeks between December 1999 and January 2000," police added.
Swiss-based victims' association Civitas Maxima, hailed the arrest as a 'landmark' and said it was the first time an individual had been detained on international charges related to the exploitation of the war in Sierra Leone
to market blood diamonds.
The death toll from Sierra Leone's civil war is estimated at 120,000 in a country that now has roughly six million people, making it one of African's deadliest conflicts in recent history.
The government of Sierra Leone has attempted to crack down on cross-border diamond trafficking to persuade foreign investors that blood diamonds are a thing of the past.