Zimbabwe Says Will Sell Marange Diamonds Amidst Kimberley Process Deadlock
Zimbabwe Says Will Sell Marange Diamonds Amidst Kimberley Process Deadlock

The government of Zimbabwe says it intends to start selling millions of dollars worth of diamonds from a controversial field in eastern Zimbabwe. But officials with the Kimberley Process, which seeks to regulate diamonds in conflict zones, say it has failed to produce an agreement on the issue.

Several hundred delegates from 75 countries ended a four-day meeting in Jerusalem deadlocked over whether to allow Zimbabwe to sell diamonds from the Marange field in eastern Zimbabwe.

The Chairman of the Kimberley Process that seeks to prevent the trade in conflict diamonds, Boaz Hirsh, told reporters no agreement had been reached yet.

"It is not an easy situation. We recognize it. We are working together with Zimbabwe and other countries to solve it. The situation is as we said earlier remains the same, until we manage to create the consensus," Hirsh said.

He said some delegates needed to consult with their governments and he hoped a consensus would be reached in a few days.

The Kimberley Process suspended sales from Zimbabwe's Marange field two years ago after human rights groups accused the government of brutality against thousands of informal miners working the alluvial (river) deposits.

Zimbabwe's Minister of Mines, Obert Mpofu, said his government would begin selling the diamonds immediately.

The Kimberley Process in June allowed Zimbabwe to hold two auctions of the diamonds. The government is seeking to have the ban lifted permanently.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who belongs to the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said diamonds from Marange were not conflict diamonds and it would be better for his cash-strapped government to earn some money from their legal export.

Smuggling of diamonds from Marange is reportedly rampant.

The Kimberley Process sent an evaluation team to the fields 10 weeks ago. Some of its members returned saying that the human rights situation had greatly improved. But others said it had not improved enough to allow a resumption of diamond sales.

The Human Rights Watch group on the eve of the meeting called for a ban on diamond sales from Marange. The human rights group said the army and police had forcefully taken over the fields and income from the diamonds was supporting senior officials of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

The Zimbabwean government says it has stockpiled more than four million carats of rough diamonds. It says it needs the money to help revive the economy which declined during a decade of hyper-inflation and falling productivity.

Zimbabwean officials accuse Western governments of seeking to maintain the ban out of opposition to Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Western governments have imposed targeted sanctions on senior ZANU-PF officials and companies associated with them because of human rights abuses.