British officials urged Zimbabwe to comply with global diamond trade regulations and said most of the finest stones are being smuggled out of its rich Marange fields.
Zimbabwe said last week it would soon start selling millions of carats of diamonds from the Marange fields, even though the global body that regulates conflict diamonds, known as the Kimberley Process, said it had not yet approved the sale.
“I would urge the Zimbabwe government to do all it possibly can to become compliant with Kimberley and that will mean that we will get much more money coming into the Zimbabwe Exchequer,” Britain’s Africa minister Henry Bellingham said, speaking at London’s Chatham House think tank.
He said the rich diamond deposits at Marange were funding “hardliners” when they should be benefitting the people of Zimbabwe, Reuters reports.
Britain’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mark Canning, said most high-grade diamonds from Marange were “going out of the back door.”
“The composition of Marange diamonds is very distinct … If you tip a pot of them on the table … you don’t see many of the top 14 percent on the table,” he said at the same event.
Officials of Zimbabwe and of the Kimberley Process, the regulator that certifies diamonds to ensure they are not used to finance wars, gave conflicting views on the outcome of a closed-door meeting in Jerusalem last week.
Boaz Hirsch, chairman of the Kimberley Process, said no agreement had been reached on exports from Marange.
But Obert Moses Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s mines and mining development minister, said there was an agreement for Zimbabwe to sell diamonds from Marange.
Mpofu told Reuters Zimbabwe had a stockpile of as much as 4.5 million carats of diamonds to sell.
In June, Zimbabwe’s government agreed that diamonds from Marange would be sold only under the Kimberley Process.
Marange became involved with the Kimberley Process after 30,000 illegal diggers descended on the fields in 2006, prompting the government to deploy the army to stop rampant panning and smuggling. Zimbabwe has accused the West of a plot to stop it from benefitting from diamonds.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and former colonial power Britain often clashed under 13 years of Labour rule in Britain.
Britain’s six-month-old coalition government has applauded economic progress under Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government but wants more political reforms.