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Conflict Diamond Watchdog Group Criticizes Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast

Conflict Diamond Watchdog Group Criticizes Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast

Conflict Diamond Watchdog Group Criticizes Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast

An international campaign group says the Kimberley Process, an international watchdog set up to monitor so-called "conflict diamonds", is failing. Britain-based group Global Witness says diamonds are regularly smuggled from Ivory Coast and says Zimbabwe's military is profiting from illicit diamond trading in the east of the country.

As the Kimberley Process annual meeting kicks off Namibia, Global Witness says the certification scheme is failing to control rough diamond production and trade.

Annie Dunnebacke is from Britain-based Global Witness, a watchdog that monitors the exploitation of natural resources. She says Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Kimberley Process.

"There's been significant evidence of non-compliance in Zimbabwe with the Kimberley Process minimum standards with respect to the serious human rights abuses that have been committed by government forces in eastern Zimbabwe in the diamond sector and the involvement of the military in Zimbabwe in diamond mining and in organized smuggling of diamonds out of the country," said Dunenbacke.

Human rights groups say 200 people were killed in a violent military take-over of diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe last year. Zimbabwe's government has denied the claims.

Global Witness says the failure to crack down on Zimbabwe is undermining the scheme's credibility.

The Kimberley Process certification scheme imposes requirements on members to verify that shipments of rough diamonds are 'conflict free'. The process was started in 2000 to stem the flow of rough diamonds used by rebel groups to finance armed conflicts.

Current Kimberley Process chief Bernhard Esau says there are gaps in the enforcement of Kimberley Process requirements in Zimbabwe. But overall he says the scheme has been successful.

But Dunnebacke says Zimbabwe is not the only weakness in the Kimberley Process right now. She says conflict diamonds from Ivory Coast are laundered into the legitimate diamond trade through neighboring states and international trading centers.

"The production of conflict diamonds in the north of Ivory Coast is increasing and these diamonds of course are leaving the country and reaching international legitimate markets," she said.

The north of Ivory Coast is under the military control of the former rebel group, Forces Nouvelles, which a recent United Nations report says is currently re-arming.

The trade in illicit diamonds has fueled conflicts across Africa, including Angola, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone.

The Kimberley Process is made up of 49 members representing 75 countries and covers about 99.8 percent of the world's production of rough diamonds.