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Some Diamonds From Zimbabwe Field Cleared for Export

Human rights groups say they are partially satisfied with the recent agreement made by an international diamond monitor to allow Zimbabwe to export some of its precious stones mined from controversial fields.

Officials with Partnership Africa Canada says they welcome the agreement's condition that Zimbabwe make improvements in its diamond-mining practices if it wants to sell more than the two batches of the gems.

Under the deal reached during a meeting of the World Diamond Council in St. Petersburg, Russia, Zimbabwe can export two batches of rough-cut stones through September 1.

But Partnership Africa Canada is calling for more controls in the months ahead. It says the deal averted a crisis concerning international sales of Zimbabwean diamonds, but the country must still prove its credibility in the future.

After the agreement was reached, officials with Human Rights Watch said the Kimberley Process itself needs urgent reform to ensure that no more so-called "blood diamonds" are sold.

The Kimberley Process oversees a certification program to ensure that diamonds sold on world markets are not used to finance armed conflicts. Human rights groups claim that in Zimbabwe, government forces control the controversial Marange diamond fields and commit human rights violations there.

A Kimberley Process review team will visit Zimbabwe next month to oversee all aspects of production of rough stones from Marange and ensure the country is complying with the new agreement. The Kimberley Process' Zimbabwe monitor, South African Frank Chikane, criticized by human rights campaigners for recently clearing Marange diamonds for export, will now have to share his responsibilities with a civil rights group, which must still to be appointed.

Human rights groups lobbied hard last year for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Kimberley Process.

Both President Robert Mugabe and his Minister of Mines, Obert Mpofu, had said that Zimbabwe would ignore any restrictions on its diamond sales.

However, after the meeting in St. Petersburg, mines minister Mpofu said Zimbabwe would adhere to the agreement.

The issue of whether to allow Zimbabwe to export diamonds from the Marange field has deeply divided Kimberley Process members, who represent governments, advocacy groups and the industry.

At a meeting last month in Tel Aviv, the group hit a stalemate on whether to resume exports. African countries, as well as India, Russia and others, advocated lifting of the ban on Zimbabwe diamonds, in line with a recommendation from a Kimberley Process diamond monitor who recently visited the country. But the United States, Canada and human rights groups resisted the idea.

Zimbabwe has been under investigation for allowing the military to control the Marange diamond field, as well as permitting diamond smuggling and illegal panners, mostly locals, in the unregulated area.

In November, the Kimberley Process suspended sales of Marange diamonds until improvements could be made.

Mining experts have estimated that Zimbabwe's diamond fields are likely the biggest deposits found in Africa since the Kimberley fields were discovered in neighboring South Africa nearly 150 years ago. The mines ministry says it already has about $1.7 billion worth of diamonds ready to be sold. Zimbabwe's total international debt is estimated at around $5.5 billion.