BELGIUM is pressing the European Union (EU) to remove sanctions against companies operating at Marange in a development that has riled human rights groups which claim the diamond money could be used to fund election violence .
Industry watchdog, the Kimberly Process, lifted restrictions on global trade in Marange gems last year, but the United States and the EU maintained sanctions against companies partnering the State-run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) at Marange.
The ZMDC runs five joint venture operations in the area and only Anjin Investments, a partnership with the Chinese, is not subject to the sanctions.
ZMDC produced 8 million carats of gems last year, generating about $685 million in exports. Officials however say the country could have realised more from its diamonds but for the US and EU sanctions.
Belgium, a major diamond trading centre, this week broke ranks with other EU countries and called for sanctions against ZMDC to be lifted arguing the restrictions reduced the amount of money filtering down to ordinary Zimbabweans.
But the move has drawn fire from human rights organisations who accused the country of taking a self-serving position aimed at promoting its key diamond industry at Antwerp.
Said the US-based Global Witness group Tuesday: “Global Witness’ investigations point to a serious risk that diamond revenues could be used to fund violence in this year’s election.
“The Belgian government is claiming concern for the Zimbabwean people; however its true interests are closer to home in the diamond markets of Antwerp.
“EU members seeking to promote democracy and stability in Zimbabwe should avoid a ménage-à-trois with Belgium and its diamond dealers this Valentine’s day.”
The EU is set to review sanctions against Zimbabwe next Monday with diplomats expecting another partial relaxation of the measures to reward progress made in the country’s constitutional reforms.
EU officials in Harare have however, indicated that a full lifting of the sanctions would depend on the successful holding free and fair elections later this year.
Global Witness insisted that restrictions against ZMDC should be maintained and demanded the addition of Anjin Investments to the embargo.
“Relaxing measures against Zimbabwe’s diamond sector now could mean a serious cash injection for security forces with a track record of voter intimidation and violence, just months before the 2013 election,” said the groups’ diamonds campaigner Emily Armistead.
“The EU should hold a steady course, and restrict trade with diamond mining operations in Marange until free and fair elections have taken place.”
Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who has led charges that diamond revenues were likely being diverted from the coalition government, has since conceded that the sanctions have not been helpful.
Meanwhile, Belgium’s call follows increasing concern over the global supply of diamonds amid reports of huge declines in production at leading miners such as De Beers as well as other companies in Canada and Russia.
Gem processors in India recently said they would be looking at Zimbabwe to help plug the gap in global supplies.
"As the rough diamond production at the world's leading mines is on the decline, Zimbabwe is the only hope for Indian diamantaires. It is only Surat, which has the skill to cut and polish the Zimbabwe stones,” industry analyst, Aniruddha Lidbide, told an Indian publication recently.