Zimbabwean officials have refuted claims that security forces are running a torture camp in its Marange diamond fields, with Mines Minister Obert Mpofu saying the BBC’s claims were ‘nonsense’.
The BBC on Monday said it had heard first-hand accounts of prisoners being beaten, raped and savaged by dogs in and around Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields, in a report that could have implications for moves to ease restrictions on the region’s diamond trade. The prisoners were miners who had demanded too much pay or had mined independently.
“The most recent victim we had was from February … It’s still open and operating,” BBC reporter Hilary Andersson told Reuters.
On Tuesday Mpofu said the BBC’s allegations were based on false information intended to prevent the country benefiting from its diamond sales.
“That is a ridiculous allegation from the desperate BBC,” he told AFP. “Why would the army do that? This is the usual BBC nonsense. These are crazy people who want to frustrate our development.”
According to witnesses interviewed by the BBC, the main torture camp is known locally as “Diamond Base” and comprises of a collection of military tents, with an outdoor razor wire enclosure housing the prisoners. It is about a kilometre from the Mbada mine that the EU wants to approve exports from.
BBC’s Panorama programme found that the company that runs the mine is headed by a personal friend of President Mugabe. A second camp is located in nearby Muchena.
“It is the place of torture where sometimes miners are unable to walk on account of the beatings,” a victim who was released from the main camp in February told the BBC.
“They beat us 40 whips in the morning, 40 in the afternoon and 40 in the evening,” said the man, who still could not use one of his arms after the beatings and could barely walk.
“They used logs to beat me here, under my feet, as I lay on the ground. They also used stones to beat my ankles.”
“Even if someone dies there, the soldiers do not disclose, because they do not want it known,” an officer in Zimbabwe’s military told the BBC, on condition of anonymity.
Witnesses said the camps have been operating for at least three years as the police and military recruit civilians to illegally mine diamonds for them. Workers mining for themselves or demanding a large profit share are taken to the camps and punished.
The main torture camp is near a mine that the European Union is considering approving exports from, run by a personal friend of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the BBC said.
The EU is looking at ways to allow some of Marange’s diamonds onto the world market under the Kimberley Process, a scheme that certifies that revenues from diamond sales will not fund conflicts, the BBC said.
Sales restrictions on Marange diamonds were imposed in 2009 after reports of killings and abuses in Zimbabwean diamond fields in 2008.
“We pressed for Zimbabwe to adhere to the principles of the Kimberley Process. Two Marange mines currently meet these standards; it is only from these locations that we support exports,” said British Africa Minister Henry Bellingham.
“From all other Marange mines, the UK and the EU continue to strongly oppose the resumption of exports until independent, international experts deem them to comply,” he added.