Zimbabwe army guns down 12 people searching for diamonds

The security force raid was backed up by an armed support unit and mounted police in a bloody night battle in which dogs were also speared to death and a horse died from its injuries.

One man escaped after falling into a cave as army sharp shooters sprayed the diggers with automatic fire in an alluvial diamond field, in a tribal area, about 20 miles north east of Mutare, near the Mozambique border.

The 38-year-old from Harare, who used to work in the plastic industry in Harare until 10 weeks ago, quit his job because the central bank limited daily cash withdrawals which meant he could not buy enough food to feed his family.

Like many thousands before him in the last 18 months, he headed to Zimbabwe’s south east and made what he considered a small fortune digging for diamonds.

"The lights were on us which made it difficult to hide," the diamond digger said. "The dogs were let loose on the people and when police realised people were killing the dogs with mugwara (iron bars used for diamond digging) then the police began firing live ammunition.

"People started running, some climbed in trees, and army guys in the helicopter started shooting at the people below.

"Some fell from the trees. The people then started killing the dogs and a horse was also killed and several policemen were injured.

"There were bodies scattered all over the place, some were injured and some were dead with their intestines hanging out.

"I ran over the dead bodies, that’s when I fell into a cave and I remained there for eight to ten hours."

He said he thought 16 were killed that night, another digger from Harare who was also there said 14 died.

An estimated 10,000 people were there at the start of the raid before fleeing, police went through the pockets of both the injured and the dead – taking their stones and money.

He said after the heat of the raid passed, he had been able to escape to Harare in a small bus but that many others had no money and had to walk to Mutare.

He said he worked in syndicate, which he named, but cannot be released as it is known to the police.

His job in the syndicate was to dig an ever deeper pit of about three yards square, put the earth into sacks and carry them back to the campsite, buy water from villagers to wash the earth to identify the stones.

A middle man then transported the stones illegally across the South African border where they were sold to undercover agents.

Since he started digging for diamonds his fortunes have changed and he told of how he had bought more food, including meat in the 10 weeks than in the last year. He had also been able to afford a television, a DVD player, a late model mobile phone a two plate stove with an oven, clothes for the children and beer.

He lives in a medium density working class suburb east of Harare.

The Marange diamond field belongs to a British company, African Consolidated Resources plc, which was forced off the land last year by the Zimbabwean government.

African Consolidated Resources has taken the government to court for confiscating the diamond field which it acquired from ministry of mines after De Beers plc failed to renew its lease on the claim.

Since the company was evicted by the police in late 2007 there have been many raids on illegal diamond diggers but the company has expressed "horror" at the recent raid, and said many "tragedies" had taken place on its diamond claim, which it had no way of preventing as staff members are denied entry by the police.

Assistant Police Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said yesterday he had "heard nothing" about the raid.