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Regulators Deadlocked on Zimbabwe Diamonds

Zimbabwe's mining minister is vowing to sell diamonds from its controversial fields in the Marange area in southeastern Zimbabwe. International diamond regulators met this week at a conference in Tel Aviv to discuss whether to allow exports of diamonds from Marange, a site of documented violence, corruption and forced labor.

Zimbabwe Mines Minister Obert Mpofu told about 70 delegates at the Kimberley Process conference that Zimbabwe needs the revenue from its stockpile of rough stones from the controversial Marange diamond fields to boost its economy. The Kimberley Process is the world body that guards against the sale of so-called "blood diamonds".

During the conference, Zimbabwe's Kimberley Process monitor, Abbey Chikane, presented a report saying that President Robert Mugabe's government had met the diamond watchdog's criteria for the sale of Marange field diamonds.

According to an Israeli Diamond Industry statement, Russia, India, and all African delegates - except those from West Africa - campaigned for Zimbabwe's Marange diamonds to be certified for legal export by the Kimberley Process.

Human Rights Watch, though, says Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Kimberley Process because it has perpetrated atrocities against some miners in the Marange area. It says rough stones from Marange should be declared "blood diamonds." And Partnership Africa Canada, which helped form the Kimberley Process, says the Marange diamonds are controlled by Mr. Mugabe's military, and that such control could undermine Zimbabwe's inclusive government and destabilize the region.

It is unclear how much the rough stones from Marange are worth. Mining Minister Mpofu told a daily newspaper in Harare this month that the stockpile could be worth between $32 million to $1.7 billion. A veteran diamond expert in London said this week the value of the rough stones can't be calculated until geological and diamond prospecting work is done on the Marange diamond fields.

Further complicating the issue is an ownership dispute between a British company, African Consolidated Resources, and two new Zimbabwe companies, which are exploiting parts of the mines.

According to Human Rights Watch, so far most of the stones sold from Marange have been smuggled out of Zimbabwe and purchased by foreigners in Mozambique.

The government of Zimbabwe claims that since the diamonds were discovered in 2006, it has not earned a cent from the sale of the rough stones.

Zimbabwe's Herald newspaper, which backs President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, reported last week that Mpofu had established a cutting and polishing unit in Harare and had hired two experienced South African experts to cut the Marange stones. The origin of cut diamonds cannot be identified.

A larger group of members of the Kimberley Process will meet next in Israel in November, where Zimbabwe's diamonds will be debated again.