Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Zimbabwe 'to defy US, West' on diamond exports

Zimbabwe has vowed to defy moves to monitor diamond sales from its disputed Marange fields, at the opening of a meeting of the global "blood diamond" watchdog, state media reported Tuesday.

Mines minister Obert Mpofu said the southern African nation must be allowed to export gems without any monitoring, insisting Zimbabwe has met the minimum requirements of the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which seeks to prevent diamond sales from financing conflicts.

"Zimbabwe met the KPCS minimum requirements and this was confirmed by the last plenary" of the Kimberley Process, Mpofu said on the sidelines of the meeting which opened Monday in Kinshasa, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.

"Tell me of any country in Africa that has invested as we have done in the Marange area," he said. "Any other outstanding issues must be regarded as work in progress, but must not stop our full diamond export right."

Mpofu said Zimbabwe has for two years invested "in attempting to rectify all KPCS issues in Marange area without any external financial assistance," adding that "Zimbabwe is not being treated fairly."

The Marange fields, touted as Africa's richest diamond find of the decade, have been at the centre of a years-long controversy over 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.

Canada's ambassador to Harare, Barbara Richardson said she believed the talks in Kinshasa this week could lead to a solution for the Marange diamonds.

"We want consumers to want to buy diamonds from every country, but in order to have diamonds certified by Kimberly Process there are minimum obligations that must be met," she said on Zimbabwe's state television.

"I think in Kinshasa there will be discussions and I think they will be positive discussions and that there will be a resolution possible that will allow for Zimbabwe to continue to be certified just like Canada is certified."

Canada and other Western nations have joined rights groups in pressing for Kimberley to apply the same rules to human rights violations as it has in the past for armed conflicts like the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

But the suspension of sales from Marange has done little to stem the flow of smuggled diamonds across the nearby border with Mozambique and then to overseas markets.

Some African governments have also balked at applying the same standard to the government of Zimbabwe as to rebel movements like those in Sierra Leone, whose brutal tactics prompted global concern over the sale of "blood diamonds".

In March, the Democratic Republic of Congo -- which has close ties to Mugabe and is the current chairman of the Kimberley Process -- made a unilateral decision to allow Zimbabwe to sell diamonds from Marange.

The decision sparked an outcry among other members of the Kimberley Process, which is supposed to reach decisions by consensus at its regular meetings. The decision was put on on hold and no sales have taken place.

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