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Human rights groups up Marange pressure  
30/10/2010 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter
 
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RIGHTS groups pushing for a ban on Marange diamonds have ratcheted up pressure as the industry heads to Israel for next week’s key meeting of the Kimberly Process where Zimbabwe is topping the agenda.

British television station Channel 4 broadcast a documentary on Friday night which claimed that rights abuses were continuing in Marange and that the army was still involved in diamond mining.

The documentary claimed President Robert Mugabe was using the Marange diamonds to buy-off the loyalty of poorly paid army and security service chiefs ahead of a crucial election showdown with long-time rival and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Senior army officers were said to be using locals to extract the diamonds which are then smuggled through the Mutare border post to Lebanese buyers in the Mozambican town of Manica.

President Mugabe’s opponents also claim that little of the diamond revenue is finding its way into the cash-strapped coalition government’s coffers.

Human rights organisations supported by western countries want the Marange gems classified as “conflict diamonds” and banned from open trade.

At the meeting in Jerusalem next week, diplomats and civil-society activists will try to hammer out the conditions that Zimbabwe must accept if it wants its diamonds to be certified as “conflict-free.”

But representatives of Zimbabwe’s government will fight for complete freedom to export the diamonds, with support from other African countries as well as India and China.

The sensational Marange diamond find - which could represent up to 25 per cent of the world’s supply of rough diamonds within two years – has divided the world’s diamond industry.

The Kimberley Process banned trade in the diamonds for much of the past year after the Zimbabwe government deployed the army to clear thousands of illegal miners who had descended on Marange district.

The export moratorium was temporarily lifted allowing the country to hold two auctions of its diamonds in August and September where more than 1.2 million carats of diamonds were sold.

Again, during the ban Zimbabwe built up a stockpile of 4.5 million carats of diamonds with an estimated value of $1.7-billion – nearly equal to the government’s entire annual budget.

Zimbabwe dismisses the allegations of rights abuses and insists that measures have since been taken to regularise exploitation of the diamond fields.



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The government has entered into joint ventures with two South African private companies to mine the diamonds.

But the Channel 4 documentary claimed the list of directors of the private companies “reads like a roll call” of President Robert Mugabe’s henchmen, many of them ex-officers in the country’s security services.

Still, Zimbabwe goes to next week’s meeting with key backing from China and India - the latter having recently concluded a deal to purchase a guaranteed $100-million a month in rough diamonds with a local consortium.

Observers say they are expecting a “nasty fight” over Marange at the Jerusalem meeting.

Those pushing for an export ban are believed to be anxious to get an agreement in Israel before the chairmanship of the Kimberly Process moves to the Democratic Republic of Congo next year.

“Zimbabwe could gain greater influence when Congo holds the chair. You’re going to see African solidarity trumping decency,” said Alan Martin said research director at Partnership Africa Canada, a Canada-based organisation that has been campaigning against blood diamonds.


 
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