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Zimbabwe Begins Sale of Controversial Diamonds

Zimbabwe has sold millions of carats of rough diamonds Wednesday that are part of a stockpile of diamonds from controversial diamond fields in southeastern Zimbabwe. The Kimberley Process has certified about $100 million of diamonds which were sold to private buyers.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai attended the lavish event at Harare's old domestic terminal at the main airport Wednesday, where several private jets brought buyers from Israel, India, Lebanon and Russia.

Abbey Chikane, Zimbabwe monitor of the world diamond control body, certified the diamonds ready for export
on Wednesday, having said controversy-plagued diamonds from eastern Zimbabwe met minimum international standards.

People on the streets of Harare were pleased with the certification. But, some stressed that the revenue from the export of the rough stones should be used to reconstruct Zimbabwe's devastated infrastructure, and not to line the pockets of individuals. No estimated value was given for all the stones in the Marange fields, although unofficial estimates range up to $2 billion.

Caleb Sibanda, a statistician at a Zimbabwe bank, said he was happy the stones are now legal.

"We do support selling diamonds in Zimbabwe but as long as it is to enrich the entire nation. Let the people be the owners of these fields and the people choose which sectors they want to be improved," said Sibanda.

The deal by the Kimberley Process to allow the export of about $100 million of diamonds was agreed to at a meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia last month.

Another sale is scheduled for next month. The Kimberley Process will then decide on September 30 whether Zimbabwe can regularly export diamonds without special monitoring.

International and domestic human rights groups maintain Marange's rough stones certified Wednesday are from diamond fields where gross human rights abuses have taken place, particularly in late 2008.

The groups, such as Global Witness, said the diamond fields are ultimately controlled by military chiefs loyal to President Robert Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe is presently traveling in China.

The alluvial rough stones certified Wednesday come from two diamond fields which the Harare High court has ruled belong to British company African Consolidated Resources.

The stones certified were sold by two Zimbabwe companies in partnership with the ZANU-PF mining ministry. The two companies, Mbada Mining and Canadile were financially backed by South African and Mauritian financiers.

African Consolidated's chief executive, Andrew Cranswick, says he wants Zimbabwe to benefit from the legal sale of diamonds but has warned that whoever buys them is trading in stolen goods.

While some of the stockpiled stones are now legally sold, diamond industry experts in Zimbabwe say there is substantial evidence that many of the most valuable diamonds from the eastern diamond fields are still being smuggled out of Zimbabwe. They say they are being sold illegally by Mr. Mugabe's allies in the security forces in neighboring Mozambique.