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ZIMBABWE: Conflict over Diamonds

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 1, 2010


IRIN

JOHANNESBURG , 1 July 2010 (IRIN) – A statement by Zimbabwe’s mining minister, Obert Mpofu, that the Cabinet had approved the sale of diamonds from the controversial Marange fields has been dismissed by another minister as “lies”.

“It was clear from the meeting that Cabinet agrees with the immediate sale of our diamonds,” Mpofu told The Herald daily newspaper in an interview. He had just returned from a gathering of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) – an international initiative designed to stem the flow of conflict diamonds – in Tel Aviv, Israel.

A cabinet minister and member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who declined to be identified as protocol prevented him from discussing cabinet meetings with the media, told IRIN: “The issue of selling the diamonds was never discussed [in Cabinet].”

The MDC formed a unity government with President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF in 2009 after violent elections that saw ZANU-PF lose its majority in parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.

''First, he lied that the recent meeting in Israel had resolved that Zimbabwe could sell its diamonds, when no such decision had been reached. Now, he is telling the world that the Cabinet has resolved to sell the diamonds, when no such decision has been taken''

The MDC minister commented: “He [Mpofu] has taken to misleading Zimbabweans and the world on the diamond issues. First, he lied that the recent meeting in Israel had resolved that Zimbabwe could sell its diamonds, when no such decision had been reached. Now, he is telling the world that the Cabinet has resolved to sell the diamonds, when no such decision has been taken.”

The KPCS meeting in Tel Aviv was dominated by the issue of Zimbabwe, but failed to find any resolution to the sale of diamonds from Marange, which has been the scene of alleged human rights abuses, including the military using adults and children as forced labourers. In 2008 hundreds of “illegal” miners were reportedly killed and many others beaten and raped in an operation to clear the 66,000 hectare area of diggers.

The KPCS, formed in 2002, meets twice a year, bringing together governments, the diamond industry and NGOs to police the trade in “blood diamonds”. Its 49 members represent 75 countries, covering about 99.8 percent of global production.

The World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) said in a statement after the Tel Aviv meeting that “diamonds originating from Marange should not be purchased until approved by the Kimberley Process Working Group on Monitoring. As no approval has yet been given, any member found doing so will be subject to WFDB disciplinary procedures.”

The World diamond Council will hold an unprecedented mini-summit at its July 2010 annual meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, to try to break the impasse over Zimbabwe.

Andy Bone, director of international relations at the De Beers diamond company, told IRIN that should Zimbabwe go ahead and sell Marange diamonds, it would have “very serious consequences for the KP and Zimbabwe”, and urged all sides to continue engaging in dialogue, “which is vitally important to millions of people around the world [in the diamond industry].”

The Marange diamond fields are said to be some of the richest finds in a century; Zimbabwe has reputedly amassed a stockpile of four million carats of diamonds worth about US$1.7 billion, which they have been unable to sell on the international market because of the KPCS ban.

Annie Dunnebacke, a campaigner for Global Witness, a UK-based NGO that was among the prime movers in the creation of the KPCS, and now monitors international trade in conflict diamonds, told IRIN that the Zimbabwe question had led to civil society “constantly assessing [the KPCS] … And if we step away, it’s pretty much the end of it [the KPCS].”

“The fact that Zimbabwe did not walk away from the KP, and that Mpofu sat in a room [in Tel Aviv] in discussions for more than 10 hours until six in the morning seems to suggest Zimbabwe has a lot to lose as well,” she said.

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