Zimbabwe Vows to Pull Troops Out of Diamond Fields

Zimbabwe has promised to withdraw its
soldiers from diamond fields in the east, an official newspaper
reported Sunday - a week after a rights group alleged the military
was committing killings and abuses in the area.

The move appeared to be an attempt to diffuse criticism over the
military's takeover of the Marange diamond fields and ensure that
Zimbabwe's precious stones won't be tainted with the "blood
diamond" label by activists, which would reduce their value.

The Ministry of Mines denied last month's report by Human Rights
Watch that said troops had killed more than 200 people at the
Marange diamond fields while forcing children to search for
diamonds and beating villagers who got in the way.

Instead, Zimbabwe's coalition government said the military was
there to secure the area, about 150 miles (250 kilometers) east of
Harare, where mining is managed by the state's Mining Development
Corp.

The 60,000-hectare (140,000-acre) Marange diamond fields were
discovered in 2006 - at the height of Zimbabwe's political,
economic and humanitarian crisis. Villagers rushed to the area and
began finding diamonds close to the surface.

The army took over the Marange diamond fields in late October
2008. Before that, the police were in control and Human Rights
Watch said there were less abuses then.

Officials of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme - the
world's diamond control body - recently visited the fields
following allegations that security chiefs and loyalists of
President Robert Mugabe were either perpetrating or tolerating
rights abuses and illegal diamond exports.

"There cannot be effective security where diamonds are
concerned with the involvement of the military," the Kimberley
delegation said in a report to the Zimbabwean government, quoted by
the state-run Sunday Mail.

The Kimberley report also noted illegal digging and processing
of diamonds in Marange and called for stricter controls to stop
diamond smuggling across the porous eastern border with Mozambique.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu on Saturday told Kimberley inspectors
that the troops would be withdrawn from the diamond fields and the
country would meet international mining standards, the Sunday Mail
reported.

"We are going to work toward getting in line with the standards
proposed," the paper quoted Mpofu as saying during the meeting.

Mpofu reportedly also told the Kimberley delegation that the
coalition government, formed between Mugabe and Prime Minister
Morgan Tsvangirai in February, planned to relocate villagers away
from the diamond fields and find investors to help provide
security.

Deputy Mines Minister Murisi Zwizwai - a member of Tsvangirai's
former opposition party - said the coalition government had
"agreed to remove the soldiers, but it will be done in phases
while proper security settings would be put in place," the Sunday
Mail reported.

It is estimated the diamonds could be worth $200 million a month
to the cash-strapped southern African nation, which is desperately
trying to raise international aid to kickstart the economy. But the
unity government has also been under foreign pressure to show signs
of reform.

Withdrawing troops from the diamond fields would deflect further
negative publicity, show the government's commitment to meeting
international obligations and ensure greater revenue from the
diamonds that are sold.

On June 26, the New York-based Human Rights Watch cited accounts
from more than 100 witnesses, miners, police officers, soldiers and
children alleging human rights abuses by troops.

It said its researchers had gathered evidence of mass graves and
accounts of an incident last year when military helicopters fired
on miners, while armed soldiers on the ground chased villagers
away.

It said many victims were unwilling to come forward out of fear
of the military.

Human Rights Watch also alleged that some of the income from the
diamond fields went to officials of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, long
accused of trampling on human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe.


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