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Zimbabwe lauded for halting diamond auction by Mugabe crony
Human Rights activists have for once applauded the Zimbabwe government for blocking the auctioning of more than 300 000 carats of what is termed as “blood diamonds” at Harare International Airport on Thursday.
It had emerged that the state authorized mining company heading the diamond auction, Mbada Diamonds had not ‘fully complied with requirements’ as the international diamond regulatory body, the Kimberly Process, and other key government departments had not been informed of the sale.
An estimated 60kgs (over 300 000 carats) of Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds were set to be sold.
Diamond buyers from across the world had flown into Harare International Airport to partake in the three day auction that was supposed to go ahead Thursday. Scores of buyers where visibly dejected after the announcement but military police moved in to quell the potential explosive situation.
No diamond sale
In a hastily arranged press briefing, Secretary for Mines and Mining Development, Thankful Musukutwa, told reporters that the auction had been stopped until the correct laid-down process was followed. “The due process for selling diamonds produced in Zimbabwe involves the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, ZRP Minerals Unit and Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, where diamonds from Marange are concerned. In the case of Mbada Diamonds, this process is yet to happen.
“The Government of Zimbabwe observes and is committed to the administrative decision of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme adopted at Swakopmund, Namibia, during the November 2009 plenary meeting,” he said.
He added "The public, and in particular the diamond community, is therefore being advised that there will be no sales or exports of diamonds by Mbada Diamonds and any other affected producers in Marange until all government regulations and KPCS requirements are observed in their entirety”.
If the sale had gone ahead, Zimbabwe would very likely have been in breach of an action plan agreed at the KP plenary in November last year. In a statement Annie Dunnebacke, diamond campaigner at Global Witness, said: "If rough diamonds from Marange had been exported from Zimbabwe without prior inspection by a Kimberley Process monitor, then Zimbabwe would have been in clear violation of the action plan they agreed to at the plenary session in November.
"We are pleased that the auction has been suspended but disappointed that the Zimbabwean authorities did not communicate their plans in advance to KP bodies".
Last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) made a written appeal directly to top retailers, urging them to shun Zimbabwe’s gems. The group warned that diamonds from Zimbabwe were being produced through “the use of forced labour of adults and children, killings, and severe beatings.”
Before the planned sale, queries were raised over Mbada’s chairman Robert Mhlanga, a former air vice-marshal who has a known close relationship with the Mugabes as a former courier for the first family.
A background check on Mhlanga reveals that he was also in the diamond trade in the DRC when Mugabe committed Zimbabwean troops to the war there. He was also a key witness in the 2003 attempt to frame Prime Minister Tsvangirai, then the opposition leader, for treason. Mhlanga had testified that he had contact with a former Israeli spy who claimed Tsvangirai hired him to kill Mugabe.
On Friday, responding to widespread criticism Mhlanga tried to downplay his failure to follow procedure saying the sales were in compliance with the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme.
Airport officials claim that due to Mhlanga’s strong links with the security establishment and to Mugabe “he flies his helicopter in and out of Zimbabwe without passing the usual customs controls”.