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03/11/2010 00:00:00
by Peta Thornycroft I VOA
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ZIMBABWE'S controversial diamonds are under intense debate at a meeting of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in Jerusalem.

Activists oppose certification of the diamonds because of human rights abuses in the fields. But most members of the Process say there is evidence security and human rights in the diamond fields have improved.

Representatives from more than 40 countries subscribing to the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme began a four-day meeting in Jerusalem Monday deeply divided over diamonds from the Marange area in south-eastern Zimbabwe.

The Kimberley Process was formed seven years ago by diamond-producing countries to prevent sales of the precious stones from funding wars and human rights abuses.

The KP banned sales of rough diamonds from Marange after reports of gross human rights abuses in Zimbabwe surfaced two years ago.

The Process 10 weeks ago sent a second mission. It inspected the alluvial diamond fields in the poverty-stricken Marange area and visited neighbouring Mozambique where some of the stones are reportedly still being smuggled.

The mission returned deeply divided over whether the Kimberley Process should certify the Marange stones for legal export.

Mission members from the United States and Australia want the Kimberley Process to delay certification of stones from Marange.

But the majority of mission members, from Africa and Israel, say conditions in the fields have improved significantly in the past year, and some say are as good or no worse than those in most other developing countries.

The Kimberley Process allowed two auctions of Marange diamonds in August and September in Harare.

Zimbabwe Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is also secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, says rough stones from Marange are not blood diamonds.

He says it is better for the treasury to earn some money from the legal export of rough stones than nothing from smuggled stones.

Three companies are mining in Marange. Two of them have close ties to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party and are backed by South African investors. The third is a newly-formed Chinese company.

As the Kimberley Process meeting began in Jerusalem, Human Rights Watch called for a ban on diamond sales from Marange. It said the army and police had used brutal force to control access to the fields and take over unlicensed diamond mining and trading.

The organisation also charged income from Marange diamonds supports senior Zanu PF politicians and security officials.

But the Human Rights Watch report carried little detailed information to back its claims.

Zimbabwe's Mines Minister Obert Mpofu [Zanu PF] said in Jerusalem that the government had done everything in its power to meet the minimum standards of the Kimberley process.

European Union official Stephane Chardon, who is chairman of the Kimberly Process working group on monitoring, said there have been marked improvements in Marange, but he said only some areas are compliant and other areas have made less progress. He said further action is needed to curb smuggling of the rough stones.

Chardon said the Kimberley Process is to issue conclusions on what further compliance measures, if any, will be required.


The radical black empowerment lobby outfit, the Affirmative Action Group, has sent its chairman Supa Mandiwanzira to Jerusalem.

The AAG circulated a document at the meeting stating why Zimbabwe should be allowed to freely trade onm the world diamond market.

The AA said: "We note with satisfaction that Zimbabwe has stayed the path of the Kimberley Process despite unmitigated frustration and political chicanery by the same KP members who have imposed unilateral economic sanctions on our country.

"This level of restraint by the Zimbabwe government must be acknowledged and not  be misconstrued for weakness in our view.

"We urge all members of the KP to stand up to the politicisation of an organisation whose ideals the AAG and the people of Zimbabwe cherish. Members of KP must stand up to the arrogance of minority member countries who want to mix their political objectives in Zimbabwe with the diamond business."

The AAG said the KP was established to stop diamonds aiding politics and rebel regime change, adding: "Similarly, diamonds must not be used as a tool for western regime change in Zimbabwe."

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