News / Africa

Regulators Arrive in Harare Prior to Controversial Diamond Sale

International diamond regulators have arrived in Harare ahead of the first legal sale of controversial diamonds from eastern Zimbabwe.

A review mission from international regulator the Kimberley Process are scheduled to travel Tuesday to southeastern Zimbabwe Tuesday, where they will inspect the controversial diamond fields in the Marange area.

Three companies are mining diamonds in a small section of Marange.  They include two Zimbabwean companies backed by South African and Mauritian financiers, and a Chinese company.

The Kimberley Process banned the legal sale of diamonds from Zimbabwe because of claims of gross human rights abuses in the diamond fields, problems with smuggling and a lack of security for the rough stones.  The Kimberley Process was formed six years ago to end trade in conflict diamonds.  Since then, some aspects of the international regulators' demands have been cleaned up.

Now the Kimberley Process says that if the situation actually has improved and after the stones are properly audited, all rough stones mined from May 28 through August 1 can be legally sold on Wednesday.

There has been much debate within the Kimberley Process about human rights abuses allegedly committed in the diamond fields.  Several international human rights groups say the diamond fields have been militarized, and that President Robert Mugabe's security forces ultimately control the Marange area.

Other groups, such as Global Witness, say there still are other outstanding issues.  One of them involves diamond rights investigator Farai Maguwu, who was held by police in poor conditions for more than a month in June.  He is now out on bail in eastern Zimbabwe.  But the attorney general's office has accused Maguwu of publishing false statements about Marange diamond operations which are detrimental to Zimbabwe.  Maguwu's reports claimed serious allegations of human rights abuses and led to the ban on sales of stones from Marange.

Tendai Biti, Movement for Democratic Change finance minister in the inclusive government, recently called for the stones to be sold legally.  He says the government has received no funds from Marange stones allegedly smuggled out of Zimbabwe and sold in Mozambique.

Abby Chikane, a South African appointed by the Kimberley Process as Zimbabwe monitor, says Zimbabwe's controversial diamonds should now be allowed to be certified and sold.

Chiam Evan Zohar a respected Israeli diamond analyst, while acknowledging alleged human rights abuses at the Marange diamond fields, has called for the legal sale of the controversial stones.  Zohar says they represent 25 percent of the world's diamonds.  The diamond analyst is currently in Zimbabwe representing the 'World Diamond Council.

Part of the area now being mined in Marange belongs to a British-registered company, African Consolidated Resources, according to a Harare high court order in September last year.  Company officials say they want Zimbabwe to benefit from the sale of the diamonds, but they may seek payments proportionate to the sale of stones from its small diamond fields in Marange.

Note: An earlier version of this story eroneously stated that 70 percent of children under five in Zimbabwe suffer stunted growth due to malnutrition. Data recently released by the Zimbabwean government, the United Nations and the Zimbabwe Food and Nutrition Council showed that "more than one third of Zimbabwe’s children under the age of five are chronically malnourished and consequently stunted." The National Nutrition Survey conducted in January "revealed a worsening problem of chronic malnutrition, posing long-term survival and development challenges for Zimbabwe. The survey also shows plummeting exclusive breastfeeding rates," a UNICEF report stated. But it added that, "the low and stable rates of severe acute malnutrition revealed by the survey are a credit to both the food security programmes supported by the international community as well as the coping mechanisms of the Zimbabwean people."

Commenting on the survey results, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama said the report "further demonstrated that the age of greatest vulnerability to malnutrition and infection is from the pre-natal period to 24 months." Dr. Salama identified this period as a “critical window of opportunity.”

VOA regrets the error in reporting the study findings.


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