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Kimberley Process Debates Fate of Zimbabwe Diamonds

  • Peta Thornycroft

Zimbabwe's controversial diamonds are under intense debate at a meeting of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in Jerusalem. Activists oppose certification of the diamonds because of human-rights abuses in the fields. Some members of the Process say there is evidence security and human rights in the diamond fields have improved.

Representatives from more than 40 countries subscribing to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme began a four-day meeting in Jerusalem Monday deeply divided over controversial diamonds from the Marange area in southeastern Zimbabwe.

The Kimberley Process was formed seven years ago by diamond-producing countries to prevent sales of the precious stones from funding wars and human-rights abuses.

The K.P. banned sales of rough diamonds from Marange after reports of gross human rights abuses in Zimbabwe surfaced two years ago.

The K.P. 10 weeks ago sent a second mission. It inspected the alluvial diamond fields in the poverty-stricken Marange area and visited neighboring Mozambique where some of the stones are reportedly still being smuggled.

The mission returned deeply divided over whether the Kimberley Process should certify the Marange stones for legal export.

Mission members from the United States and Australia want the Kimberley Process to delay certification of stones from Marange.

But the majority of mission members, from Africa and Israel, say conditions in the fields have improved significantly in the past year, and some say are as good or no worse than those in most other developing countries.

The Kimberley Process allowed two auctions of Marange diamonds in August and September in Harare.

Zimbabwe Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is also secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, says rough stones from Marange are not blood diamonds.

He says it is better for the treasury to earn some money from the legal export of rough stones than nothing from smuggled stones.

Three companies are mining in Marange. Two of them have close ties to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and are backed by South African investors. The third is a newly formed Chinese company.

As the Kimberley Process meeting began in Jerusalem, Human Rights Watch called for a ban on diamond sales from Marange. It said the army and police had used brutal force to control access to the fields and take over unlicensed diamond mining and trading.

The organization also charged income from Marange diamonds supports senior ZANU-PF politicians and security officials.

But the Human Rights Watch report carried little detailed information to back its claims.

Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF mines minister Obert Mpofu said in Jerusalem that the government had done everything in its power to meet the minimum standards of the Kimberley process.

European Union official Stephane Chardon, who is chairman of the Kimberley Process working group on monitoring, said there have been marked improvements in Marange, but he said only some areas are compliant and other areas have made less progress. He said further action is needed to curb smuggling of the rough stones.

Chardon said the Kimberley Process is to issue conclusions on what further compliance measures, if any, will be required.

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