Robert Mugabe to sell diamonds without approval

Zimbabwe said it would soon start selling millions of carats of diamonds from its controversial Marange fields, even though the global body that regulates conflict diamonds said it had not yet approved the sale.

Officials of Zimbabwe and of the Kimberley Process, the regulator that certifies diamonds to ensure they are not used to finance wars, gave conflicting views on what had been the outcome of a closed-door, four-day meeting in Jerusalem.

Boaz Hirsch, chairman of the Kimberley Process, said no agreement had been reached on exports from Marange.

But Obert Moses Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s mines and mining development minister, when asked whether there was an agreement for Zimbabwe to sell diamonds from Marange, said: "Yes".

He told reporters after the meeting ended, "Zimbabwe will sell diamonds without any conditions. There is no opposition to that."

Mpofu said sales would start immediately but could not say exactly when.

"Our people have been waiting years," he said. "This will be a major achievement for the economy."

But Hirsch said an agreement had not been reached, although one is expected in the coming days.

"We are still working with Zimbabwe and other countries," he said at a news conference. "We were unable at this stage to reach a consensus."

He added that a few unidentified countries still needed to approve certification.

"It’s safe to say we will be engaging with them heavily as of tomorrow," Hirsch said, noting that it took extra time to reach an earlier agreement this year after another meeting in Tel Aviv.

Politics

He warned Zimbabwe to wait until it receives certification, saying: "We expect each country to act in accordance with the Kimberley Process."

Hirsch declined to say what action the body would take if Zimbabwe were to start selling Marange diamonds without an agreement.

Mpofu earlier this week said that Zimbabwe had a stockpile of as much as 4.5 million carats of diamonds to sell. Mining, he added, accounts for some 30% of the economy.

In June, Zimbabwe’s government agreed that diamonds from Marange would be sold only under the Kimberley Process.

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.

Civil 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 – is largely untapped.

Mpofu said some Western countries used the Kimberley Process as a forum to air their political frustrations and, "this is unacceptable". He rejected the notion of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

"We’re not benefitting from being a member of the Kimberley Process, but we are still a member. We believe in doing things the orderly way," Mpofu said.

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