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Rights Groups Cite Zimbabwe Government Agency in Illegal Diamond Sales

Human Rights Watch and Partnership Africa Canada released a document they said showed the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe offering in March 2011 to sell more than $200 million in Marange diamonds, then banned from export sale

Two international human rights groups – Human Rights Watch and Partnership Africa Canada – said Tuesday that Zimbabwean and foreign banks had facilitated illegal sales of diamonds from the controversial Marange alluvial field in the east of the country, and charged that human rights abuses continue there in the form of mistreatment of local residents.

In a news conference in Johannesburg, Human Rights Watch and Partnership Africa Canada released what they said was a document leaked from the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, a state agency, offering in March 2011 to sell more than $200 million in Marange diamonds with payment through through three Zimbabwean banks.

"This shows Zimbabwe was willfully in breach of the ban on Marange diamonds" sales then in place, Partnership Africa Canada Research Director Alan Martin told journalists.

He said foreign banks with ties to the three Zimbabwean banks - the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, BancABC and Premier Banking Corporation - are "exposing themselves to reputational harm." The groups said Barclays Bank and South African-based Standard Bank both have large shareholdings in the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe.

Martin said the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank unit, has extended a loan of US$89 million to BancABC.

"By facilitating these transactions [the banks] and the IFC are participating in diamond-related violence," he said. "These banks subscribe to a higher ethical bar than those who are trafficking in these dirty diamonds."

Standard Bank in a statement sent to VOA Tuesday said the rights groups misunderstood its relationship with CBZ. Spokesman Ross Lindstrom said Standard Bank represents clients who own shares in CBZ, but does not itself hold any shares in the bank.

A Barclays spokeswoman declined to comment.

Human Rights Watch said Zimbabwe police and private security guards employed by mining companies in the Marange field are shooting, beating and unleashing attack dogs on poor, local unlicensed miners, an allegation the Zimbabwean government vehemently denied.

''Shooting defenseless miners and unleashing dogs against them is inhuman, degrading and barbaric,'' said Tiseke Kasambala, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. ''The diamonds from the Marange fields are tainted with abuse."

A community organizer in Chiadzwa backed the charges of abuse by security guards, but said the police and army were now working well with the local community.

Chiadzwa Community Development Trust Project Coordinator Melanie Chiponda said security guards often set attack dogs on villagers for no reason.

Chiponda says residents are in talks with the companies mining in Marange about the continuing human rights issues.

Chiadzwa sources said a 10-year-old was bitten by dogs recently after the herd of cattle he was minding strayed into a secured area, and a 76-year-old woman was also attacked.

Villagers say security guards are using guns to scare them away, sometimes firing non-lethal rounds that leave fragments in bodies.

Chiponda told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that seven people had dogs set on them this month when they trespassed into designated Mbada mining areas.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu dismissed the Human Rights Watch allegations, but said his ministry is looking into the alleged misuse of attack dogs.

Analyst Charles Mangongera said Harare needs to move fast to deal with Marange abuses.