‘Blood diamonds’ team starts Zim probe

blood_diamonds.jpgHARARE - An international group is in Zimbabwe to investigate allegations of mass murder by government soldiers in a diamond field in the east of the country, state media reported on Wednesday.

The mission from the Kimberley Process (KP), the United Nations-founded
body to monitor the trade in so-called "blood diamonds" arrived on a
fact-finding mission on Monday and were due on Tuesday to visit the
notorious Chiadzwa diamond field about 80km south of the eastern city
of Mutare, the government-controlled daily Herald said.

The KP has established a system of international diamond trading which
bans the sale of diamonds that have been exploited in "conflict areas"
or where diamonds are used to prop up violent regimes.

The Chiadzwa area has been the centre of controversy since October last
year when hundreds of soldiers from President Robert Mugabe’s army were
deployed to drive off thousands of wildcat diggers and panners who
invaded the area. There have been widespread reports of random killings
of hundreds of diggers and of mass graves.

"No one was killed in the operation," Mining Minister Obert Mpofu was
quoted on Wednesday as saying, adding that the "high level of
criminality" led to three murders among diggers.

He said that Zimbabwe, a signed-up member of the KP, "is committed to
the successful implementation of the Kimberley Process, and will
provide information on the situation on the ground." The last
inspection by KP officials was in 2006.

Diamond rush

The government illegally seized the Chiadzwa diamond claim from
British-based Africa Consolidated Resources in 2007, and set off a
diamond rush when it encouraged locals to help themselves. But since
the army was deployed there, the area has been cordoned off to all but
security forces.

The soldiers also embarked on a major crackdown on illegal traders who
had turned much of the eastern Manicaland province into a thriving
economic area from illegal dealing, which saw the streets of Mutare
filled with new luxury vehicles as diamond barons flouted their wealth.

However, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group said about 5 000
people were arrested during the army operation, with three quarters of
them of them showing signs of having been tortured severely.

The Movement for Democratic Change, now in a coalition government with
Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, has claimed that hundreds of people were buried
in mass graves "to hide the regime’s murderous activities", and that
the soldiers sent to guard the fields had become illegal dealers

The state-run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation has been given
exclusive mining rights in the area, but its officials admitted this
week that the organisation, like most of Zimbabwe’s bodies, was
bankrupt and was "looking for partners" to exploit the fields.

Mail & Guardian Online/SAPA/DPA

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