Zimbabwe’s controversial diamond auction opens

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Scores of international diamond buyers thronged Harare, Zimbabwe on
Wednesday for the sale of the controversial gems from Marange Diamond
fields after a ban was lifted.

Abbey Chikane, the monitor from the international Kimberley Process says close to 900,000 carats valued at about US$72 million would go under the hammer at Harare International Airport amid tight security.

Opening the auction sale, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai described the auction as historic. “Indeed it is historic in that we have managed to satisfy the minimum requirements of the Kimberley Process,” said the premier.

The Kimberley Process (KP) is an international body set up to root out trade in “blood diamonds” – diamonds that bankroll conflict.

He added, “We have put in place measures to ensure that we abide by the Kimberley Process principles and sell our diamonds in a transparent manner.”

The Zimbabwe government claims to have close to 4.5 million carats of diamonds in its stocks, valued at US$1.7 billion has attracted buyers from as far as the United States, Israel, Russia, Lebanon and India.

Kimberley last month ruled that Zimbabwe had ceased abuses by the military, which seized control of the Marange fields in late 2008. Despite the lifting of the ban, human rights groups, both local and international, still insist that the gems are “blood diamonds”.

They base this on widespread reports that more than 200 people were
killed by the military at Marange in 2008. Reports of women raped by the military also abound.

Marange is situated in the eastern part of the country, close to Mozambique and the diamonds have been accumulating since the Kimberley Process last year ordered Zimbabwe to suspend its diamond exports.

Reports from Marange indicate that on a daily basis, about 300 smugglers go on diamond smuggling errands for military officers crossing into Mozambique, where they are reportedly sold on the black market.

Smugglers claim they are compelled to do the errands by Mugabe’s army officers, who threaten to kill their families if they refused.

Lebanese traders reportedly buy up the rough diamonds without a Kimberly certificate, at about USD 25 per carat, implying that each stone fetches roughly at least USD 1,000.

Some military officers are reported to cross the border at least three times a day.

About two weeks ago, speaking at the funeral of his sister Sabina, President Robert Mugabe made a rare passionate appeal to politicians to ensure that all Zimbabwean citizens benefit from the new-found diamond wealth not just a few politicians.

Mugabe told politicians to blunt their appetites. “Zimbabwe’s diamond
should be used to improve the whole country”, he said. He named no names – but since he did not directly mention the MDC, many assumed he was referring to officials from his own ZANU-PF party.

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