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Diamond watchdog okays Zimbabwe diamond sales

02 November 2011, 13:43

Harare - HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has been allowed to export diamonds from its Marange fields by the industry's top certification system, ending two years of dispute that left the Kimberley Process divided, an industry group said on Tuesday.

The Kimberley Process' last meeting in June gave the green light to Zimbabwe to sell the diamonds but the decision did not have the backing of several Western countries.

But on Tuesday, the World Diamond Council (WDC) said United States, Canada and the European Union had finally dropped their objections, agreeing that Zimbabwe sells the Marange diamonds following verification by a Kimberley Process monitoring team.

WDC president Eli Izhakoff said in a statement that the EU played a large part in brokering the agreement at a meeting in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Credit also is due to Zimbabwe, the African nations led by South Africa, the United States...who put in long hours in negotiating the arrangement, which has escaped us for more than two years," Izhakoff said.

"It has been a long time in coming," he said.

The Kimberley Process, a scheme that certifies that revenues from diamond sales will not fund conflicts, will send two monitors to Zimbabwe in the next two weeks to assess and certify the diamonds.

Rights groups say abuses have taken place against illegal miners, smuggling is rife and some mines in Marange remain in the hands of Zimbabwe's military -- all charges denied by Harare.

Last year, Zimbabwe was allowed by the Kimberley Process to sell a small amount of diamonds but the United States, Canada and EU said then human rights issues still remained.

EU representative Catherine Ashton in a statement urged Zimbabwe to ensure mining in Marange was transparent and welcomed the role of civil society to monitor mining activities.

"The EU urges the Zimbabwean authorities to honour their commitments without further ado," Ashton said.

There are five companies with licences in Marange, but only three are mining diamonds, namely state-owned Marange Resources, state joint venture firm Mbada Diamonds and Chinese-run Anjin.

The government says Anjin has stockpiled more than 2 million carats of diamonds but has not been able to sell the stones.

The rights group Global Witness said the Kimberley Process risked being irrelevant by allowing the sale of diamonds it maintains are tainted by human rights abuses.

"We are seeing a situation where sadly a large number of member governments and the industry think they can keep the show on the road by endlessly striking shabby deals on the Marange diamond fields," Mike Davis, a campaigner with Global Witness told Reuters by telephone from London.

The state-owned Herald newspaper earlier reported on Tuesday that the United States was likely to drop its objections to the sale of Marange diamonds in return for support from African members for its bid to chair the Kimberley Process in 2012.

- Reuters

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