Police in Zimbabwe have arrested more than 16,000 people in a crackdown on illegal mining and the smuggling of precious minerals.

The state-run Herald newspaper reports that police have seized more than three kilograms of gold, 20 emeralds and nearly 5,000 pieces of diamond since the operation began in November.

A police spokesman, chief superintendent Oliver Mandipaka, says most of the arrests and recoveries were made near border posts. He says illegal dealers were trying to smuggle the minerals into neighboring countries.

Officials have complained of a rise in illegal gold panning, saying the practice causes a build-up of silt in dams and other environmental damage.

Many Zimbabweans have taken to panning in an effort to weather the country's economic crisis. Zimbabwe is suffering from 80 percent unemployment and annual inflation of more than 1,000 percent.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.