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Zimbabwe to resume diamond exports

Reuters | Mon, 01 Nov 2010 17:08

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[] -- ZIMBABWE plans to resume selling diamonds from its controversial Marange fields within days, saying it fully meets the standards required by the body that regulates trade in conflict diamonds.

Obert Moses Mpofu, Zimbabwe's minister of mines and mine development, said a report that will be unveiled at this week's Kimberley Process meeting in Israel shows the African country should no longer be subject to industry sanctions.

"We have done everything in our power to meet the minimum standards of the Kimberley Process certification scheme," Mpofu told Reuters on the sidelines of the four-day meeting in Jerusalem that began on Monday.

"This puts us in a position to resume exports without sanctions. We will start selling diamonds again immediately after the meeting," he said.

Mpofu said Zimbabwe, in which 30% of the economy comes from minerals, has a diamond stockpile of about 4.5 million carats that are due for export.

"We can't continue to hold them with no reason," he said.

In June, Zimbabwe's government agreed that diamonds from Marange would only be sold under the Kimberley Process - a certification scheme aimed at preventing the diamond trade from financing violence.

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.

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 considered the largest diamond find in the last century - is largely untapped, making its potential huge.

"There is recognition that there have been marked improvements in Marange," said Stephane Chardon, chairperson of the Kimberley Process working group on monitoring. "But only some parts are compliant and in other parts, less progess has been made."

During this week's meeting, the main item on the agenda of the some 75 countries participating will be Zimbabwe's compliance with the Kimberley Process.

Chardon told Reuters that Zimbabwe still needs further action to curb illicit trade and smuggling of diamonds.

He said that by the end of the meeting, the Kimberley Process will issue conclusions on how much more of compliance, if any, will be required from Marange.

"Do we still need closer monitoring or can they export freely?" Chardon said.

Boaz Hirsch, chairperson of the Kimberley Process, said there is agreement that Zimbabwe has implemented its rules to a certain extent but there were disputes as to whether the implementation was 50% or 90%.

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

The Kimberley Process was formed eight years ago and officials believe it has succeeded in virtually ending wars financed by conflict diamonds.

Another issue to be discussed at the meeting is how the Kimberley Process can deal with human rights issues, a key demand by its partner, Civil Society.

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