The UN Security Council voted unanimously to lift a ban on Liberian diamond exports imposed in 2001 when so-called blood diamonds were being used to fuel civil wars in West Africa.

Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said Friday that the vote was "a recognition of the progress made in Liberia" to meet the conditions to join an international program to certify the diamonds' origin to ensure they were mined legally.

After the vote, Liberia's UN ambassador, Nathaniel Barnes, said he had just learned that the Kimberley committee was going to accept Liberia's application as a result of the council's action, "so as of now, we are officially a part of the Kimberley Process."

Liberia submitted its application on March 27 to join the Kimberley Process, a voluntary 71-country group created out of the furor over diamond-funded wars in Sierra Leone and Angola. Group members agree to trade only certified diamonds.

Government wants sanctions lifted

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf— Africa's first elected woman leader who took office in January 2006— inherited one of the world's poorest countries, battered by back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 that left 200,000 people dead, and displaced half the country's three million people.

Her government has pressed for the lifting of the diamond sanctions imposed in May 2001 to stop former president Charles Taylor from using government revenues from diamonds to fuel civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Taylor, who went into exile in August 2003, faces war-crimes charges stemming from his alleged backing of Sierra Leone's rebels, who terrorized victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips.

"This government has shown its determination to put in place measures to ensure that the proceeds of diamond sales go for the benefit of Liberia and its people, and are not misappropriated," said Jones Parry, the current council president.

It's "a reflection of our confidence in that country, in its leadership."

Barnes said he expects the lifting of diamond sanctions to have an "incredibly positive" impact because it will provide jobs in a country with an 85 per cent unemployment rate.

The resolution was sponsored by the United States. The council said it would review its decision to lift diamond sanctions in 90 days after considering a report by a UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions on Liberia's compliance with the Kimberley certification process.

Liberia is still subject to an arms embargo, a travel ban on named individuals, and an asset freeze against Taylor and his top officials.