Monday, June 13, 2011

Mozambique to step up diamond controls

Mozambique is speeding up preparations to join an international conflict diamond monitoring scheme amid widespread gem smuggling from Zimbabwe's controversial Marange mines, state media said on Monday.

Mining Minister Esperanca Bias said Mozambique, which hopes to start mining its own diamonds soon, wants to join the Kimberley Process diamond certification scheme by December, Noticias newspaper reported.

"Government's idea is that we shouldn't lose time. We are in the prospecting phase, yes, but we have to join the Kimberley Process already, so that we are familiar with it when we start mining activities," Bias said.

Currently 27 companies and individuals are prospecting for diamonds in Mozambique under 40 separate licences.

Tests are already being done to see if some samples are commercially viable, Bias said.

Her announcement comes amid reports that diamond smugglers are trading in gems worth millions of dollars from neighbouring Zimbabwe's Marange diamond mines through the central Mozambican border town of Manica.

The Marange fields, touted as Africa's richest diamond find of the decade, have been at the centre of a years-long controversy over reported abuses by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's military.

Monitors say the military seized control of the fields in late 2008, violently evicting tens of thousands of small miners and then beating and raping civilians to force them to mine the gems.

Human rights groups say about 200 people were killed, and Kimberley Process investigators later documented "unacceptable and horrific violence against civilians by authorities", prompting a ban on exports of the gems.

The Kimberley Process last year allowed two special sales of Marange diamonds. In March, Zimbabwe's deputy mines minister announced that the Kimberley Process would again allow the country to sell diamonds from the mines.

The watchdog's current chairman, Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo -- who has links with Mugabe -- was subsequently criticised for acting unilaterally in authorising the sale.

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