Watchdog divided on Zim diamond deal

2011-06-24 12:31

Harare - The Kimberley Process (KP) against so-called blood diamonds will allow Zimbabwe to sell some diamonds from its controversial Marange fields, in a decision that left the watchdog sharply divided on Friday.

Right groups walked out of the Kimberley meeting on Thursday in Kinshasa, where African countries, China and India supported the decision that was opposed by Western nations, rights groups and industry.

"We have made a breakthrough," Zimbabwe Mines Minister Obert Mpofu told the state-run Herald newspaper in Harare.

He said the KP had endorsed exports from the two mines operated by Marange Resources and Mbada Diamonds "with immediate effect without supervision".

The decision - taken by Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who holds Kimberley's rotating chair - appears to allow sales from the two South African firms in Marange once a team of two monitors have signed off on the deal.

Currently five licensed firms operate in Marange, but only three are mining at full throttle, while the other two say they have found only minimal reserves after exploration.

US-based diamond group Rapaport Trade quickly advised members not to trade in the Marange gems.

"Marange goods (are) expected to be released shortly," Rapaport said in an advisory to members. "Responsible buyers should require supplier guarantee that they are not selling these diamonds to them."

Western companies fear the bad press that comes with "blood diamonds", gems whose sale is used to finance armed conflicts.

Western nations and rights groups have pushed for the KP, originally meant to cut off financing for brutal rebellions in Liberia and Sierre Leone, to bar trade in any diamonds tainted by violence and abuses.

Companies in China, India and the Middle East do not face the same public pressure from their customers and have proved more eager to tap into what has been touted as Africa's biggest diamond find of the decade.

Other African nations have been reluctant to apply the same standard to a sitting government as to armed rebellions.

Outrage at the Kimberley decision prompted civil society members of the organisations - including resources watchdogs Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada - to walk out of the meeting, arguing that the ruling undermines the scheme's credibility.

Kimberley decisions supposed to be consensus based.

"We represent communities that have suffered from diamond-fuelled violence, and communities that hope to benefit from diamond wealth," said Aminata Kelly-Lamin from the Network Movement for Justice and Development in Sierra Leone.

"We can no longer go back to these people, look them in the eye and tell them that the scheme is working to protect their interests, when it is not," she said.

In a joint statement, the civil society groups said Kimberley's decision failed to protect civilians living and working in Marange.

"Marange has been the scene of very serious human rights violations over the past three years. Yet the deal tabled did not credibly address the question of how to protect local NGOs (non-government organisations) monitoring and reporting to the KP on conditions in the area," said Alfred Brownell from Green Advocates, Liberia.

The Marange fields have been at the centre of a years-long controversy over abuses by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's military.

Monitors say the military seized control of the fields in late 2008, violently evicting tens of thousands of small miners and then beating and raping civilians to force them to mine the gems.

Zimbabwe conducted a KP-monitored sale last year, although move was opposed by other countries such as Canada and United States.

That sale raised $100m, according to government figures, after selling 400 000 carats.