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Proposal to Fund Zimbabwe Budget With Marange Diamonds Elicits Skepticism

Diamond experts and human rights activists have expressed skepticism following a statement by the finance minister saying the government will closely monitor mining in Marange to ensure revenues flow into state coffers

Human rights activists and diamond industry experts have expressed skepticism following last week's statement by Finance Minister Tendai Biti that Harare will closely monitor diamond mining in the controversial Marange alluvial field to ensure that revenues are channeled into the state budget.

Biti indicated in his speech outlining a budget featuring a US$800 million deficit that he was counting on revenue from the Marange field where the military was accused of committing human rights violations, leading to an investigation by the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme. The Kimberly Process said it would closely scrutinize Marange diamond mining and export activities.

Human Rights Watch Senior Africa researcher Tiseke Kasambala published an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times saying the latest information on the human rights situation in Marange indicated matters have not improved, urging American consumers not buy Zimbabwean diamonds this Christmas.

Kasambala took the Kimberly Process to task for not suspending the export and international sale of Marange diamonds. "The Kimberly Process, by failing to do its job, leaves Americans and others in the uncomfortable position of potentially buying blood diamonds."

She said American consumers "can send a strong message to the diamond industry, the smugglers and those running these abusive mining operations. It is not acceptable to trade in stones mined by children whose labor was coerced, by women who've been raped, or men who've been tortured."

The Rapaport diamond news Web site voiced skepticism on Biti’s plan, saying the position outlined in his speech was “in stark contrast” with the work plan agreed by the Kimberly Process and the government last month.

Efforts to reach key Kimberly Process officials were unsuccessful. The World Diamond Council refused to comment.

But Farai Maguwu, director of the Center for Research and Development in the eastern Zimbabwean city of Mutare, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that Biti’s plan is a positive step toward increased transparency.