Gem ban ‘punishing’ Zimbabweans

[] — ZIMBABWE Finance Minister Tendai Biti on Wednesday urged the diamond watchdog Kimberley Process to clear the country to sell its diamonds, saying the government desperately needed the income.

Kimberley blocked Zimbabwe’s international sales after documenting gross military abuses against civilians in the eastern Marange diamond fields, including forced labour and beatings of workers.

A monitor tasked with evaluating the situation has given his all-clear, but rights groups say abuses are continuing and a top activist in Marange has been arrested.

“The Kimberley Process must allow us to sell our diamonds, but must then come to Zimbabwe to help resolve these issues,” Biti said in a newsletter published by the prime minister’s office.

“It will be very unfortunate if the KP does not allow us to sell the diamonds because they will be punishing the people of Zimbabwe. We can’t pay for electricity, we can’t pay for civil servants and yet we are sitting on one of the finest find of alluvial diamonds in the history of mankind.”

Biti’s statement came after a Kimberley meeting in Tel Aviv failed to reach a consensus on Zimbabwe. Talks are set to resume next week in Saint Petersburg.

He said ordinary people were paying the price for the stalemate between Zimbabwe’s government and Kimberley.

“If you have issues with an elite political leadership, allow diamonds to be sold, but rein in on the political elite because they will still sell diamonds outside the KP at the expense of the poor,” he said.

Currently Zimbabwe has 4.5 million carats of diamonds in its stocks.

The Kimberley Process gathers governments, industry and civil society to stem the flow of “blood diamonds” used to finance wars.