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Zimbabwe Delegation to Kimberly Meeting in Namibia Said to Threaten NGOs

Representatives of Zimbabwean non-governmental organizations attending a Kimberly Process Certification Scheme meeting in Namibia scrutinizing the country's management of a diamond field in the east of the country where human rights abuses and smuggling have been reported said Tuesday they were threatened by a state delegation.

NGO sources lobbying the Kimberly Process for action against Zimbabwe said they were threatened with unspecified action by Zimbabwe Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, who is heading a team of 29 seeking to avoid imposition of a ban on the sale of Zimbabwean diamonds.

The minister was said to have been incensed at the presence in Windhoek of representatives of Zimbabwean NGOs urging imposition of the ban on Zimbabwean diamond exports over human rights and other violations in the Marange field of Manicaland province.

NGO sources said the government team in particular targeted Mutare-based activist Farai Maguwu, at one point physically manhandling him.

The Canadian delegation issued a statement critical of the Zimbabwean minister and calling on the Zimbabwean government to allow activists to work unhindered, sources said.

Studio Seven was unable to reach Maguwu, who sources said left the meeting, or Mpofu.

For perspective, VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to Manicaland parliamentarian Pishai Muchauraya of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been deeply involved in the Marange crisis.

The Zimbabwe case has been referred to the Kimberly Process's participatory committee chaired by India, which was to render a decision on Thursday.

Sources said China and Russia were surprisingly in support of Zimbabwe’s suspension while South Africa, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo opposed the action.

The Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition has issued a statement saying Zimbabwe has failed to meet international standards set forth by the Kimberly Process and should be suspended from importing and exporting rough diamonds.

The NGO coalition, whose members include Global Witness, Partnership Africa Canada and Green Advocates of Liberia, was calling on Kimberly Process member countries to act on the allegations of human rights abuses within the Zimbabwean diamond industry.

The Kimberly Process administers mechanisms intended to ensure that diamonds do not fund conflicts and are not mined under conditions that violate human rights. Its 48 participants represent 74 countries with the European Community counting as a single participant.

"Since the discovery in 2006 of significant alluvial diamond deposits in Marange, eastern Zimbabwe, controls over the diamond sector have been nonexistent and communities in and around the diamond fields have borne the brunt of a series of brutal measures to restore state control over the area," declared a statement issued by Global Witness.

"The authorities have failed to stop the military from carrying out abuses and profiting from the illicit trade in diamonds, effectively condoning - and perhaps even encouraging - the looting and attendant violence against civilians," Global Witness said.

The Civil Society Coalition highlights the need for KP reforms including binding human rights provisions for Kimberly Process members; faster Kimberly decision-making to facilitate swift action; formation of an independent statistical and research analysis unit; and ensuring that diamond profits are at least partly used to promote development initiatives.

A Kimberly Process review mission went to Zimbabwe in July and found that Harare was not meeting Kimberly standards. Its recommendation that Zimbabwe not be allowed to import or export diamonds under the Kimberly process "until such time as a KP team determines that minimum standards have been met" was harshly criticized by Mpofu.

Human Rights Watch reported in June that the Zimbabwean military had killed more than 200 unauthorized diamond diggers in Marange in late 2008 and was profiting from the diamond trade. The group said last week that such abuses and diamond smuggling continue.

The Zimbabwean government continues denied any killings by the military in Marange.

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