Inquiry into alleged mass murder in diamond fields

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ALLEGATIONS THAT government soldiers in Zimbabwe killed hundreds of illegal miners at a diamond field in the east of the country are being investigated by an international team, according to state media yesterday.

The group from the United Nation’s Kimberly Process (KP) arrived in Harare last Monday to begin its investigation, which has been sparked by widespread local rumours around the diamond fields of Chiazdzwa.

The Chiazdzwa diamond fields were discovered in 2007 by a UK- based mining company, Africa Consolidated Resources, but President Robert Mugabe’s government quickly seized the claim and gave the mining rights to the state- run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.

However, word of the find sparked a diamond rush and it is estimated that 20,000 Zimbabweans descended on the area.

The police initially tried to tackle the illegal mining, but they failed to deter the miners. Consequently, the army was dispatched by the government last October.

Human rights organisations have accused the soldiers of using brutal tactics, saying the hospital morgues in Mutare are full of the operation’s victims.

The Movement for Democratic Change has alleged that hundreds were also buried in mass graves to hide the atrocities.

Last year the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a combination of rights organisations, called for the alleged violations to be investigated so those responsible could be brought to justice.

The Herald newspaper reported the KP team began its investigation in Harare with government officials, and then travelled to Chiazdzwa, which is about 80kms from Mutare, last Tuesday to continue its fact finding mission.

Since the crackdown it has been reported that the soldiers posted to guard the fields are now taking part in illegal mining activities, allegedly forcing locals to carry out the digging and panning for them so as not to raise suspicion.

However, mining minister Obert Mpofu has denied the allegations of mass murder, telling the Herald on Wednesday that: “No one was killed in the [clean-up] operation” before confirming three diggers were murdered by criminals.

He added that Zimbabwe had signed up to the KP and as such was “committed to the successful implementation of the Kimberly Process, and will provide information on the situation on the ground”. The KP was established by the UN to monitor trade in illegally-mined diamonds, known as “blood diamonds” which have been used by armed groups to fund conflicts across Africa and support corrupt regimes.

Illegally mined diamonds are usually smuggled out of their countries of origin. The stones are then sold into the diamond supply chain of countries like South Africa where legitimate trading occurs.

The KP process is effectively an international certification scheme designed to prevent diamonds mined in conflict areas from entering these markets.

If the allegations against the government prove to be true, Zimbabwe could be struck off the KP list of signatories.

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