HARARE (SAPA) - An international group is in Zimbabwe to investigate allegations of mass murder by government soldiers in a diamond field in the east of the country, state media reported on Wednesday.
The mission from the Kimberley Process (KP), the United Nations-founded body to monitor the trade in so-called “blood diamonds” arrived on a fact-finding mission on Monday and was due on Tuesday to visit the notorious Chiadzwa diamond field about 80km south of the eastern city of Mutare, the government-controlled daily Herald said.
The KP has established a system of international diamond trading which bans the sale of diamonds that have been exploited in “conflict areas” or where diamonds are used to prop up violent regimes.
The Chiadzwa area has been the centre of controversy since October last year when hundreds of soldiers from President Robert Mugabe’s army were deployed to drive off thousands of wildcat diggers and panners who invaded the area. There have been widespread reports of random killings of hundreds of diggers and of mass graves.
“No one was killed in the operation,” Mining Minister Obert Mpofu was quoted on Wednesday as saying, adding that the “high level of criminality” led to three murders among diggers.
He said that Zimbabwe, a signed-up member of the KP, “is committed to the successful implementation of the Kimberley Process, and will provide information on the situation on the ground.” The last inspection by KP officials was in 2006.
The government illegally seized the Chiadzwa diamond claim from British-based Africa Consolidated Resources in 2007, and set off a diamond rush when it encouraged locals to help themselves. But since the army was deployed there, the area has been cordoned off to all but security forces.
The soldiers also embarked on a major crackdown on illegal traders who had turned much of the eastern Manicaland province into a thriving economic area from illegal dealing, which saw the streets of Mutare filled with new luxury vehicles as diamond barons flouted their wealth.
However, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group said about 5 000 people were arrested during the army operation, with three quarters of them of them showing signs of having been tortured severely.
The Movement for Democratic Change, now in a coalition government with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, has claimed that hundreds of people were buried in mass graves “to hide the regime’s murderous activities”, and that the soldiers sent to guard the fields had become illegal dealers themselves.
The state-run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation has been given exclusive mining rights in the area, but its officials admitted this week that the organisation, like most of Zimbabwe’s bodies, was bankrupt and was “looking for partners” to exploit the fields.