Members of the World Diamond Council are meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia to discuss whether to allow the sale of diamonds from Zimbabwe's Marange fields. Gabe Joselow reports from Moscow the diamond industry hopes the Zimbabwe stones will be deemed "conflict-free."
Diamond industry leaders, government officials and human rights group monitors held a closed-door meeting in St. Petersburg to discuss disagreement over a ban on Zimbabwe's rough diamonds.
Talks are taking place through Thursday at the seventh annual meeting of the World Diamond Council. Participants hope the discussions will be productive, after a meeting two weeks ago in Tel Aviv, Israel ended without agreement.
At issue is whether diamonds from the Marange fields in Zimbabwe meet the requirements of the Kimberley Process - an initiative by governments, industry and civil groups to certify diamonds as "conflict free." That means they were not sold to finance rebel groups warring against legitimate governments.
Alex Popov, president of the Moscow Diamond Bourse and a member of the World Diamond Council says the diamond industry hopes the ban on sales from Zimbabwe is lifted.
"We hope that a solution will be found to allow Zimbabwe diamonds from these two particular mines who [sic] have been cleared by the Kimberley Process moderator to enter the main stream of trade," Popov said.
As he notes, a South African monitor from the Kimberley Process recently reported Zimbabwe's Marange fields meet the minimum requirements for certification, though they failed a previous inspection.
But some governments, including the United States, continue to voice opposition as rights groups accuse Zimbabwean government forces that control the fields of committing acts of violence and other abuses there.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has warned he will allow the diamonds to be exported with or without Kimberley Process approval, a prospect that worries many in the diamond industry, including Alex Popov.
"Zimbabwe has a very, very sizable amount of raw diamonds, and if these deposits will be left to uncontrolled trade, we will see very big damage to the diamond and jewelry industry," Popov said.
Zimbabwe is estimated to hold up to 25 percent of the world's diamonds. The country hopes the sale of the valuable gems will help revive its struggling economy.