Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mugabe vows to defy rules on 'blood diamonds'

President Robert Mugabe has promised to sell diamonds from his country's controversial Marange mine ''sanctions or no sanctions'', and the country that would be his biggest customer, India, is being urged by the industry there to buy Zimbabwe stones outside the international framework.

The Kimberley Process - the international protocol designed to stem trade of conflict diamonds - is in turmoil.

Conflict or blood diamonds are diamonds whose mining and sale is used to fund violent conflict and human rights abuses. Most come from resource-rich Africa, where diamond money is used to buy weapons and fight insurgencies.

The Age revealed last month that India, the world's largest diamond trading hub that exports 95 per cent of the world's cut diamonds, is being infiltrated by illegally mined conflict diamonds.

Diamonds mined in Africa are smuggled into India by plane or boat, where they are cut and polished, and essentially laundered, turned into clean diamonds for sale on the world market. Traders in India's diamond capital Surat said up to 10 per cent of India's $26 billion diamond market could be conflict stones.

Australia is a significant customer. By carat weight, half the cut diamonds imported into Australia come from India; more than 125,236 carats worth $155 million, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

The issue of Zimbabwe selling stones from its Marange mine will dominate the agenda at a Kimberley Process meeting that begins today in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Previously at the mine in the country's east, scores of miners have been shot by government troops from aircraft helicopters and local villagers forced into mining. It is widely believed government troops have been involved in smuggling stones.

Australia will push for independent monitors to supervise mining at Marange, saying it holds serious concerns for the future of the Kimberley Process, and a failure to resolve the Marange mine issue could see the entire framework fail.

Global Witness campaigner Elly Harrowell said this week's meeting was critical for the future of the Kimberley Process.

''The KP can't go on like this, we can't just crash from crisis to crisis. The Zimbabwe impasse has highlighted significant structural issues with the Kimberley Process and if we can't sort those problems out, then perhaps the KP won't have a future.''

But Mr Mugabe has already said his country will sell its Marange diamonds regardless of any conditions the rest of the world tried to impose.

''Sanctions or no sanctions, Zimbabwe will sell its diamonds,'' Bulawayo 24 News quoted him as saying.

Already, South Africa has agreed to buy rough Zimbabwe diamonds ''outside'' the Kimberley Process.

And the Indian diamond industry, likely by far Zimbabwe's biggest customer, is pushing for Delhi to do the same.

''Instead of South Africa, the initiative of accepting import of Zimbabwe diamonds should have been taken by India as Surat is the end-user of [Zimbabwean] stones,'' chairman of Surat Rough Diamond Sourcing India Limited Ashit Mehta said. ''It is very crucial to clear Zimbabwe's rough diamond export.''

The Kimberley Process was established in 2003 to curb the trade of conflict diamonds and requires all rough diamond exports to be stored in a tamper-proof box and carry a certificate guaranteeing the diamonds were mined legitimately.

But the Kimberley Process applies only to rough diamonds; once stones are cut and polished they are no longer bound by the protocol and are almost impossible to trace.

This makes India, with literally thousands of diamond-cutting operations, from the large and legitimate, to the unsophisticated and illegal, a haven for smugglers.

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