Pressure group warns Zimbabwe against diamond sale

HARARE, April 28 Wed Apr 28, 2010 11:30pm IST

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HARARE, April 28 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe should not auction diamonds from its controversial Marange fields without approval from trade regulator Kimberly Process despite a court allowing the government to sell the precious stones, an industry pressure group said on Wednesday.

British-based Global Witness, which investigates and campaigns against blood diamonds, said Zimbabwe had not yet complied with a plan agreed with the Kimberly Process to reform diamond mining operations at Marange and should be suspended if it proceeded with the auction.

A High Court ruled on Tuesday that the government could sell diamonds, dismissing a challenge by junior miner African Consolidated Resources (AFCR.L) to stop Zimbabwe from auctioning precious stones mined from its claims in Marange.

The government said in February it had mined 2 million carats of diamonds since the start of the year through its 50-50 joint ventures with two South African companies.

"If the government goes ahead with its plan to sell diamonds without prior approval from the Kimberly Process, it will be in breach of its commitments and should face suspension," said Elly Harrowell, a Global Wintess campaigner.

"What has been taking place in Marange is unconscionable and there is no way exports should restart until the government can prove it has taken the necessary action to end the abuses and hold the perpetrators to account," she said in a statement.

Rights groups accuse Zimbabwe's military of widespread atrocities in Marange in 2008 as President Robert Mugabe's previous government moved to stop thousands of illegal miners on the poorly secured fields in the east of the country.

Mugabe has accused Western countries of working to stop Zimbabwe from benefiting from its mineral resources but said the government will press with controversial plans to cede majority stakes in foreign-owned companies, including mines, to locals.

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