Mugabe troops try to ‘eliminate’ gem miners

VIOLENCE still haunts the Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe despite a deal that allows President Robert Mugabe’s regime to sell gems free from the taint of being called “conflict diamonds”.

Witnesses have described continued shootings, beatings and the use of dogs by soldiers, police and private guards against illegal miners in the remote east of the country, where geologists uncovered the largest diamond reserves in modern history, a find thought to be worth £2 billion-a-year to the Harare government.

An impoverished victim from Mutare, the closest big town to the fields, described being shot in the face by soldiers. He said he had seen four friends murdered and others beaten after digging for diamonds near a gem concession.

The 35-year-old man claimed he had been recruited to dig for stones by the soldiers who had later killed his colleagues and disfigured him for life.

“We agreed to share the proceeds,” he said. “They said for every five diamonds that we get, we give them one or give them two.

“But when we were digging there was a change of officers — soldiers that were not used to seeing us. They came to surround us and started firing on us, using live bullets, and as we were running away they then fired on us using big guns. There was no warning given.”

He had escorted the four bodies of his friends to a mortuary and then taken them home for burial, he said. The witness, whose face bears the scars of the attack in August last year, claimed the soldiers had been trying to eliminate them all so there would be no witnesses to the atrocity.

Other accounts suggest the violence has persisted. Two former diamond miners who fled to South Africa said they had been assaulted by police and private guards at Marange.

One victim, who has the scars of dog bites on his shoulder and thighs, said the pair had been shot at and guard dogs set on them as they attempted an illegal dig. According to both exiles, now living in the Western Cape, they were attacked as they took advantage of a strike at a Chinese-run mine.

“We had been digging to the west of the complex when a private patrol came through on a pick-up truck with searchlights and they started shooting at us,” he said. “They weren’t aiming across us as a warning. They didn’t care if we were killed.”

He added: “Another patrol came in with dogs and we were bitten on the legs and buttocks and some of us in the head. I saw two other miners being stabbed with bayonets before I escaped. We don’t know if they made it out.

We were worried the men who were captured would talk and the police would come for us. So we fled.”

Since Mugabe’s government seized a British company that owned the Marange fields at gunpoint in 2006 hundreds of lives have been lost there.

As the scale of the diamond deposits emerged, illegal miners were driven off by the army, with helicopter gunships deployed in a massacre in 2008. That led to a ban on exports of diamonds in 2009. Under the United Nations-backed Kimberley Process, which monitors the world trade in diamonds, Marange gems were allowed back on to markets in November last year.

Global Witness, an environmental pressure group in London, withdrew from the certification scheme in protest. Britain and the US are trying to expand the organisation’s definition of “conflict diamonds” to include those mined amid human rights abuse.

Zimbabwe and other African nations want to keep the original remit, which prevents rebel groups using the proceeds of diamond sales to fight governments.

According to Alan Martin, of Partnership Africa Canada, which campaigns against human rights violations in Marange, the violence makes a mockery of the official definition of conflict diamonds. “The main perpetrators of violence in the diamond industry today are no longer rebel movements, but government forces and private security companies,” he said. ”

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