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Kimberly Process Team Starts Zimbabwe Diamonds Probe

A six-member team from the Kimberly Process has started an in-country investigation into whether diamond mining in Zimbabwe is being conducted in compliance with rules intended to keep so-called conflict diamonds off world markets.

The World Diamond Council said last week that Zimbabwe and Venezuela were not in compliance with the international certification program under which raw diamonds are registered so as to exclude - in theory - diamonds from countries in which the gems become the currency with which insurgent forces finance arms purchases.

But Mines Minister Amos Midzi told the state-run Herald newspaper Tuesday that he had invited the team to check the facts on the ground. It will meet with authorities and inspect the Chiadzwa diamond fields in eastern Marange district.

Diamond mining in Marange became a free-for-all after the state Minerals Marketing Corporation pushed out British-owned Africa Consolidated Resources.

The team will also visit a diamond mine in Beitbridge that has become the subject of litigation between River Ranch, whose directors include retired army general Solomon Mujuru - spouse of Vice President Joyce Mujuru - and Bubye Mine.

River Ranch, which physically controls the mine, is flying the Kimberly Process team to the mine near Beitbridge, on the border with South Africa.

Bubye Mine attorney Terrence Hussein, meanwhile, has asked United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and outgoing World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to probe alleged dealings between River Ranch on the one hand and the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank on the other.

In a letter to the U.N. secretary general, Hussein said his clients believe that the U.N. "involvement and constant denial will have serious knock-on effects on the ability of the judicial services to bravely and independently discharge their duty."

Hussein charged that UNDP vehicles have been used at the mine, and that the African Management Services Company, an executive-loan program run by the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank unit, has been advising River Ranch.

Hussein told Wolfowitz that his clients "expect the World Bank to take a decisive step to distance itself from River Ranch Diamond Mine" or they would hold the international financial institution "liable for the very serious physical abuses they have suffered" and "the illegal exploitation off diamonds at the mine over the past two years,"

UNDP spokeswoman Cassandra Waldon has denied the charge that UNDP vehicles were used in smuggling diamonds out of Zimbabwe. But the United Nations said it is investigating the allegations.

Hussein told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that apart from his appeal to the U.N. and World Bank he is eager to meet the Kimberly team.

River Ranch legal advisor George Smith, a retired judge, confirmed that his clients have been working with the African Management Services Company, or AMSCO, and said they will meet the Kimberly Process investigators on Wednesday.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...