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Urgent review of Zim diamonds

Jan 11 2009 11:00 Waldimar Pelser

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Johannesburg - The World Diamond Council (WDC) is demanding an urgent inquiry into the Zimbabwean diamond industry. This is amid the violence on that country's diamond fields, alleged diamond smuggling to countries like South Africa and the use of diamond dollars to prop up President Robert Mugabe's regime.

Zimbabwe could now be in danger of losing its status as a legal diamond dealer in terms of the United Nations (UN) Kimberley Process, which strongly campaigns against trade in conflict diamonds.

Zimbabwe's formal diamond industry is currently on its knees. The country produces less than 0.4% of the world's diamonds, but illegal exploitation of alluvial diamonds increased sharply in 2008.

This is fanning fears that Zimbabwe can no longer exercise effective control over its diamond production - a Kimberley requirement.

In an attempt to combat illegal trade, Zimbabwean security forces by the end of last year had driven 35 000 illegal diggers and dealers from the Chiadzwa diamond field near Mutare, the Zimbabwean police reported in December.

Human rights groups claimed that air force helicopters had opened fire on diggers, and the diamond newsletter Rapaport announced that about 200 people had died in the fray.

In response to questions from Sake24, Eli Izhakoff, chairperson of the WDC, declared in New York that the industry was "deeply concerned" about reports that diamond trade in Zimbabwe was no longer complying with the terms of the Kimberley process.

According to Izhakoff, a Kimberley Process team is drawing up a report on Zimbabwe to determine whether "serious non-compliance with the mandates of the Kimberley process" exists.

The WDC itself declared in January 2008 that it had received reports that illegal Zimbabwean diamonds were being smuggled to South Africa, and were being classified as legitimate and then exported.

"We request an urgent and immediate review of the (Zimbabwean) diamond office and its procedures."

Analysts say that even if Zimbabwean diamonds remain legitimate, prospective buyers should have sufficient information to be able to reject Zimbabwean stones.

Standards (in the Kimberley Process) must evolve so that people can inform themselves that diamond proceeds do not go to a regime committing massive human-rights atrocities, says Nicole Fritz of the Southern African Litigation Centre.

Prof Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabwean political analyst, reckons steps to curtail Zimbabwe's diamond trade should be seen as "another means of placing pressure on the political mediation process".

"Diamonds are clearly one of the last remaining sources of funds for a state that increasingly depends on its security forces for survival," he adds.

- For more business news in Afrikaans, go to Sake24.com.

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