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Zimbabwe: Diamonds are a dictator's best friend

New agreement allows Zimbabwe to sell the gemstones on international market.

Zimbabwe is able to legally sell a stockpile of diamonds, despite widespread charges of human rights abuses.(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — International rights campaigners have given a cautious welcome to the decision by the World Diamond Council to allow diamonds from the controversial diggings in Chiadzwa, in Zimbabwe’s eastern districts, to be exported under the supervisory Kimberley Process.

But they have warned that close inspection will be needed to ensure President Robert Mugabe’s government does not renege on undertakings it has given in weeks of intense negotiations.

Mining in the Chiadzwa area near the border with Mozambique has been shrouded in controversy with charges of gross human rights abuses from local and international organizations including Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada.

Zimbabwean rights campaigner Farai Maguwu was last week released from jail where he had spent three weeks, much of that time beyond the reach of his family and lawyers.

He was charged with “peddling falsehoods prejudicial to the state.” The charge derived from confidential material he supplied to Kimberley Process monitor Abbey Chikane, a South African, disclosing details of killings, kidnappings and other abuses at the hands of Zimbabwe’s military.
Maguwu’s arrest produced a wave of outrage which delayed the negotiations aimed at finding a solution to the impasse.

Agreement was finally reached in St Petersburg, Russia, last week.

“The ball is now firmly in Zimbabwe’s court to make good on its promises and act to end one of the most egregious cases of diamond-related violence for many years,” said Annie Dunnebacker of Global Witness.

The campaign groups hope the agreement, if fully implemented, will end the widely reported abuses in Zimbabwe’s diamond fields.

At one stage Chikane claimed that his luggage had been opened by “naughty” intelligence officers. Correspondence between him and U.S officials subsequently appeared in Zimbabwe’s government-owned press as Mugabe’s regime anticipated a negative outcome.

Australia, the EU, Canada and the United States have opposed lifting restrictions on the sale of what rights campaigners refer to as “blood diamonds.”

The agreement in Russia was welcomed by Zimbabwe as a triumph for its diplomacy. Mines minister Obert Mpofu has been characterizing Western hostility as part of a regime-change plot.