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Zimbabwe Crackdown On Illegal Gold Panners Said To Net 16,000

Zimbabwe police have arrested more than 16,000 illegal miners around the country in what Harare authorities called Operation Chikorokoza Chapera, Shona for "Operation Gold Panning Ends," the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported Thursday.

The Herald quoted police as saying the blitz was launched November 21 with the aim of halting unauthorized gold panning and the smuggling of diamonds. Police told the newspaper seized a 3.2 kilograms of gold and some 4,900 rough diamonds.

The paper quoted senior police official Oliver Mandipaka as saying authorities would remain vigilant to maintain order and prevent further environmental damage.

The Herald quoted Mandipaka as saying that politicians and businessmen, whom he
described as "greedy fat cats," were monopolizing the industry, purchasing gold and diamonds from small operators and smuggling the minerals out of the country.

Mandipaka could not be reached for confirmation of the Herald report.

For perspective on the operation, reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to economist Eddie Cross, national policy coordinator with the Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai, who said the blitz is reminiscent of the government's 2005 forced eviction and demolition campaign.

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