Zim nets $71m from diamond auction

2010-08-13 07:25

Harare - Zimbabwe's government netted about $71m from a major sell-off of rough diamonds from its controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields, the country's mining minister said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Zimbabwe resumed full-scale diamond exports by auctioning close to 1 million carats to international buyers at Harare airport.

"We sold 893 000 carats at about $80 each (totalling about $71.44m)," Obert Mpofu told the German Press Agency.

The amount sold is a fraction of the 4.5 million carats of diamonds the government says it has amassed over the past year from abundant fields in the east of the country.

Before the auction, which was attended by buyers from the United States, Lebanon, India, Israel and other countries, Mpofu had said all 4.5 million carats were up for grabs.

But a monitor from the Kimberley Process (KP) - the international body set up to clamp down on trade in diamonds used to fund conflicts -certified only a quarter of Zimbabwe's diamond stocks for sale.

"We expect the monitor to be back in early September to look at the rest of the stock we have," Mpofu said.

The KP last year ordered Zimbabwe to suspend its diamond exports over reports of gross human rights abuses by the army against small-scale miners and residents in Chiadzwa.

Blood diamonds

Following several visits by KP inspectors in recent months, during which the government got approval for two small diamond sales, Zimbabwe got the go-ahead on Wednesday to resume exporting diamonds that have been mined under KP supervision.

The diamonds sold on Wednesday were diamonds that had been mined since May.

Zimbabwe's diamonds became tarred with the "blood diamond" brush after the army launched a brutal crackdown against thousands of illegal diamond diggers in the area in late 2008, when Mugabe's Zanu- PF party still had a monopoly on power.

New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch says scores of people were killed and injured by the army in the operation. Zimbabwe's government denies there were any killings.

The army is still securing the fields, which are being mined by the state Zimbabwe Diamond Mining Corporation in a joint venture with two little-known South African companies.