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Zimbabwe activists not swayed by govt diamond tour

By Gillian Gotora
Associated Press / March 9, 2012
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HARARE, Zimbabwe—A government-sponsored tour of Zimbabwe's diamond fields has failed to persuade human rights activists that mining abuses have stopped, or that miners are being open about what they earn at the internationally criticized fields, activists said Friday.

Farai Maguwu, who has documented murder, torture and forced labor in the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe, was among the activists who just returned from the tour. On Friday, he said rights abuses continue, and that people report police and soldiers beating them at roadblocks on suspicions of illegal diamond mining.

Others on the tour said government agents tried to keep them from seeing too much.

Shamiso Mutisi, of Zimbabwe's Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition, joined the tour and on Friday called for improvement in accounting of diamond production. He said there is little transparency on how many diamonds are produced.

The world's diamond-regulating body, the Kimberley Process, in November allowed Zimbabwe to sell its diamonds on the world market despite concerns by rights groups that human rights abuses still persisted at the Marange fields.

Human Rights Watch has accused Zimbabwean troops of killing more than 200 people, raping women and forcing children to search for the gems in Marange fields.

Maguwu told The Associated Press on Friday that they were "not given the opportunity" to talk to villagers so as to ascertain the extent of rights violations.

"Human rights abuses continue to take place. We want this to stop completely," he said.

Mutisi also raised concerns over health issues and noted a "lot of dust emissions and the possibility of water contamination" in the area.

An international group monitoring blood diamonds, Global Witness, last month cited fears that loyalists of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe were using diamond revenue as an "off-budget cash cow" instead of rebuilding the shattered economy.

Mugabe's party has denied hoarding any diamond revenue.

Mugabe has called for elections this year to end a fragile three-year coalition with the former opposition of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The coalition was formed after disputed and violence-plagued elections in 2008. Independent rights groups blamed the violence on the police and military and Mugabe party militants.

The finance ministry, controlled by Tsvangirai's party under the power-sharing deal, was this year promised $600 million for treasury from diamonds which it says is well below the potential diamond income.

The group also said unspecified amounts of Zimbabwe's diamond earnings were being stashed away in tax-free havens of Mauritius, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands, and could be used to finance violence and intimidation in the proposed elections.

Diamond concessions have been allocated to several companies linked to Mugabe's party under questionable circumstances, Global Witness report said.

A close Mugabe ally and former top air force officer was given a 25 percent stake in one of the largest diamond firms, Mbada Diamonds, with no auditing to show who benefited from diamond sales.

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