New crackdown on Zimbabwe diamond miners

By KITSEPILE NYATHI, NATION CorrespondentPosted Wednesday, July 15 2009 at 12:41

HARARE, Wednesday

Zimbabwe is preparing to re-launch a military crackdown on illegal diamond miners in the eastern part of the country, risking an international ban on its precious stones.

Only a fortnight ago, the Kimberly Process (KP) the international diamond certification group gave the Zimbabwean government up to next week to demilitarise the area.

A KP team led by Liberian deputy mines minister Mr Kpandel Fiya dispatched to investigate reports of human rights abuses at the Chiadzwa diamond fields concluded that security forces were looting diamonds and committing atrocities against civilians.

The team, which will release its final report this month end, also recommended that the soldiers must be withdrawn immediately.

But state media reported: Operation Hakudzokwi (You don’t return) which was jointly carried by security personnel to restore sanity at Chiadzwa diamond fields is bouncing back bigger and more re-invigorated to deal once and for all with illegal diamond dealers and panners, says the governor and resident minister for Manicaland province, Cde Chris Mushowe.

Mr Mushowe who is a strong President Robert Mugabe ally was said to have given a strong warning to illegal diamond dealers and panners to stop forthwith their unlawful activities as they will have no-one but themselves to blame when the operation is reinvigorated.

At the height of the operation that began in August last year and claimed hundreds of lives according to human rights groups, Mr Mugabe’s spokesman Mr George Charamba said the troops were employing shock therapy.

Last month, the New York based Human Rights Watch said 800 soldiers were deployed and villagers were forced to reclaim gullies with their bare hands. The injured were denied medical care and victims were reportedly buried in mass graves.

The government said there was no evidence to back the claims. Mr Fiya told Zimbabwe’s Mines Minister, Mr Obert Mpofu at the end of the KPs mission that villagers recounted tales of senseless violence.

Our team was able to interview and document the stories of victims, observe their wounds, scars from dog bites and batons, tears and on going psychological trauma, Mr Fiya said.

“I am from Liberia Sir, I was in Liberia through out the 15 years of civil war and I have experienced too much senseless violence in my lifetime, especially connected to diamonds.

“In speaking with some of these people, Minister, I had to leave the room. This has to be acknowledged and it has to stop.”

University of Zimbabwe political scientist Mr Eldred Masunungure said the military was not likely to leave the diamond fields because influential people from Mr Mugabe’s previous administration were benefiting from the disorder.

It is a political minefield because there are powerful forces that are being touched, he said.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe says if properly the Chiadzwa diamonds can generate up to US$200 million a month for the bankrupt government.

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The founder and president of Diamond Cutters International, is one of the worlds top diamond experts, as well as a three-time Guinness Book record holder in jewelry design.
Fred The Diamond Guy
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