Zimbabwe to get diamond boost
Harare - Zimbabwe could earn billions of dollars a year selling diamonds from a region scarred by army abuse, officials said on Wednesday after a crisis that left the global "blood diamond" watchdog badly tarnished.
Opponents slammed the decision by the Kimberley Process (KP) to let the country resume sales of diamonds from Marange, saying it risked making the watchdog's seal of approval meaningless, and would fund rights abuses by President Robert Mugabe's party ahead of elections.
"It's really a travesty, and calls into question the future of the Kimberley Process and its credentials as a scheme which provides consumers with any kind of guarantee that their diamonds are blood-free," Mike Davis of rights group Global Witness told AFP.
"The prime beneficiaries may well be particularly dubious and in some cases violent figures within the political establishment in Zimbabwe who are looking for ways to pay for the kind of abusive and intimidatory tactics which they typically use in the run-up to elections."
The decision allows two firms, state-owned Marange Resources and state joint venture Mbada Diamonds, to sell gems from the Marange region, one of Africa's biggest diamond finds in decades and the site of gross human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch says Mugabe's army killed more than 200 people in late 2008 in an operation to clear small-scale miners from the area, and Kimberley investigators confirmed abuses that resulted in a ban on the region's diamonds.
Tuesday's deal came after negotiations involving Zimbabwe, the European Union, South Africa, the United States and the World Diamond Council, which monitors KP compliance.
It resolves a deadlock that had threatened to derail the KP, with India and China supporting a resumption of Marange sales over bitter opposition from Western nations, rights groups and the industry.
A US State Department spokesperson said the United States had abstained from the vote in order to help the KP move past "a debilitating impasse".
"We continue to have concerns about the situation in Marange," spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau of the US embassy in Pretoria said in an email.
"The United States continues to support the KP strongly and is committed to working with all stakeholders to strengthen the process."
Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, a Mugabe ally, said Zimbabwe stands to rake in more than $2.0bn a year in diamond revenues thanks to the decision, calling it a needed boost to the economy.
"We want to shock and shake the world," he told journalists. "Now we are going to unleash our worthiness to the world. Zimbabwe will not be begging from anybody.
"Zimbabwe will not be the same again. There is going to be prosperity, development and full sovereignty of our resources."
But Edward Cross, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's rival MDC party, said on Wednesday the KP should not have cleared the sale.
"I think it was absolutely wrong to allow the Marange diamonds to be sold," he told AFP.
"I have evidence that the value and volumes of Marange diamonds are being underestimated and are being used to subvert the democratic process in Zimbabwe."
Rights groups accuse Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, which shares power with Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change in a tense coalition government, of funnelling profits from Marange diamonds to senior military officials and party leaders.
Under the power-sharing deal, Zimbabwe is due to draft a new constitution to pave the way to fresh elections, which could be held as soon as next year.