Zimbabwe to resume diamond exports, says met terms

JERUSALEM, – Zimbabwe plans to resume selling diamonds from its controversial Marange fields within days, saying it fully meets the standards required by the body that regulates trade in conflict diamonds.

Obert Moses Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s minister of mines and mine development, said a report that will be unveiled at this week’s Kimberley Process meeting in Israel shows the African country should no longer be subject to industry sanctions.

"We have done everything in our power to meet the minimum standards of the Kimberley Process certification scheme," Mpofu told Reuters on the sidelines of the four-day meeting in Jerusalem that began on Monday.

"This puts us in a position to resume exports without sanctions. We will start selling diamonds again immediately after the meeting," he said.

Mpofu said Zimbabwe, in which 30 percent of the economy comes from minerals, has a diamond stockpile of about 4.5 million carats that are due for export.

"We can’t continue to hold them with no reason," he said.

In June, Zimbabwe’s government agreed that diamonds from Marange would only be sold under the Kimberley Process — a certification scheme aimed at preventing the diamond trade from financing violence.

Marange became involved with the Kimberley Process after 30,000 illegal diggers descended on the fields in 2006, prompting the government to deploy the army to stop rampant panning and smuggling.

Rights groups accused the security forces of committing atrocities during the crackdown.

Zimbabwe has accused the West of a plot to stop it from benefitting from diamonds but it received approval for two shipments of diamonds in July. The Marange mine — at 66,000 hectares (163,100 acres) considered the largest diamond find in the last century — is largely untapped, making its potential huge.

"There is recognition that there have been marked improvements in Marange," said Stephane Chardon, chairman of the Kimberley Process working group on monitoring. "But only some parts are compliant and in other parts, less progess has been made."

During this week’s meeting, the main item on the agenda of the some 75 countries participating will be Zimbabwe’s compliance with the Kimberley Process.

Chardon told Reuters that Zimbabwe still needs further action to curb illicit trade and smuggling of diamonds.

He said that by the end of the meeting, the Kimberley Process will issue conclusions on how much more of compliance, if any, will be required from Marange.

"Do we still need closer monitoring or can they export freely?" Chardon said.

Boaz Hirsch, chairman of the Kimberley Process, said there is agreement that Zimbabwe has implemented its rules to a certain extent but there were disputes as to whether the implementation was 50 percent or 90 percent.

In addition to Marange, Zimbabwe exports diamonds through a domestic unit of global miner Rio Tinto.

The Kimberley Process was formed eight years ago and officials believe it has succeeded in virtually ending wars financed by conflict diamonds.

Another issue to be discussed at the meeting is how the Kimberley Process can deal with human rights issues, a key demand by its partner, Civil Society.

Meanwhile, Mines and Mining Development Minister, Obert Mpofu says the government will sue giant diamond mining company, De Beers for looting Chiadzwa fields for 15 years.

The Chiadzwa diamond fields used to be managed by De Beers, the South African mining giant. De Beers sold its franchise to African Consolidated Resources (ACR), a British company before the Zanu (PF) regime confiscated the fields and handed them to the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), which in turn sub-contracted Mbada and Canadile Miners to mine Chiadzwa.

Speaking at a Hwange annual golf tournament at the weekend Mpofu said the government would soon launch legal proceedings against De-Beers for looting diamonds from Chiadzwa without the authorities’ knowledge.

“We are going to take legal action against them. We want them to account for tonnes and tonnes of diamonds which they were extracting and sending to Europe, claiming were just samples,” said Mpofu.

The Mines and Mining Development Minister said De Beers pulled out of the country when government began a probe into the operations of the company after getting wind that there were diamonds at Chiadzwa and that De Beers was covertly mining at the site.

“De Beers has been prospecting at Chiadzwa for more than 15 years, they only pulled out after we start investigating their operations in that area,” he said.

The Kimberley Process (KP) temporarily lifted a ban on diamond exports from Chiadzwa in July after their monitor Abbey Chikane said Zimbabwe had met all conditions set by the world diamond regulator.

Under a consensus agreement reached by the KP and Zimbabwe during the World Diamond Council meeting in Russia three months ago, Zimbabwe was allowed to conduct two supervised auctions of rough diamonds from the Chiadzwa diamond fields.

The move saw about 1.5 million carats of stockpiled Chiadzwa diamonds going under the hammer in August and September, prompting boycott calls from a leading international network of buyers and suppliers Rapaport Diamond Trading Network.