Call for Zimbabwe diamond sanctions to be lifted

An international meeting to discuss rules curbing the sale of conflict diamonds began Tuesday with a call for the United States to lift sanctions on Zimbabwean mines.

Representatives of 81 countries taking part in the Kimberley Process heard a plea from the South African chairman that Washington follow the European Union's lead and allow Zimbabwe's return to international trade.

South Africa's Welile Nhlapo, who currently chairs the rotating presidency of the diamond watchdog, argued that Zimbabwe has moved on from the disputed July 31 elections won by President Robert Mugabe.

"We hope that those who continue to maintain such sanctions will also be able to lift them because the lifting of these sanctions would assist Zimbabwe to bring stability and prosperity once again," he said at the start of the grouping's four-day talks in Johannesburg.

The EU in September lifted restrictions against the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, the firm that controls one of the world's largest diamond fields.

Zimbabwe's Mines Minister Walter Chidakwa threw his weight behind the recommendations of the Kimberly Process.

"Since the EU has removed sanctions on our diamonds, we are calling on the United States to remove sanctions so that we can be able to do as much business as possible," Chidakwa told AFP.

The move by the EU allows the country to go back to trading at Antwerp, one of the world's largest diamond centres, in Belgium.

"I hope that in December we will be able to make a full comeback into Antwerp," Chidakwa said on the sidelines of the annual assembly.

The Zimbabwe firm had been blacklisted for allegedly channelling funds to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

The Kimberley Process aims to prevent the proceeds of diamond sales from financing conflicts around the world.

The process covers about 99.8 percent of the world's production of rough diamonds.