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Zimbabwe Government Halts Auction Of Diamonds From Controversial Marange Field

Sources said former air marshall Robert Mhlanga, chairman of Mbada diamonds, invited international buyers without the approval of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the Kimberly Process

The Zimbabwean government on Thursday halted an auction of 300,000 carats of diamonds mined in the controversial Marange field of Manicaland province after it emerged that the sale had not been sanctioned by the government or the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme which has oversight in the field.

State media quoted former Air Vice Marshal Robert Mhlanga, chairman of Mbada diamonds, one of the government-authorized firms developing the Marange field in the east of the country, that the auction at the Harare International airport was intended to curb the illegal trade of diamonds in the country and to ensure compliance with international standards.

But it turned out that Mbada had invited international buyers without the approval of the government and behind the backs of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, a state agency, and Core Mining and Grandwell Holdings, two little-known South African minerals firms.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu declined to comment on the aborted auction when reached by VOA, saying he was on break. Acting Mines Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who also holds the Defense portfolio, said the diamond sale was halted after the government found out about it through media reports.

Mhlanga played a prominent role in Zimbabwe's 1990s military involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was key witness in the 2004 treason trial of then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, today prime minister, testifying as to alleged contacts with Ari Ben Menashe, a Canadian-based Israeli who claimed Tsvangirai hired him to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Mr. Tsvangirai was acquitted of treason, a capital offense.

Deputy Mines Minister Murisi Zwizwai told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that he doubts any diamond sale will be held in the near future because the government is waiting for the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme to appoint a monitor to oversee Marange diamond mining and exports.

Chief Executive Andrew Cranswick of London-listed Africa Consolidated Resources, former holder of a government concession in Marange, said that his company has warned international diamond dealers not to buy what he described as "stolen goods," noting that Harare has refused to comply with a High Court ruling upholding ACR’s rights in the Marange field.

The Kimberly Process conducted an inquiry in the Marange field after Human Rights Watch charged that the Zimbabwean military, still in substantial control of the area, had committed grievous human rights abuses including the killing of more than 200 people and the use of forced labor. Marange diamonds have reportedly been exported illegally through Mozambique.

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