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Britain Urges Harare To Investigate Alleged Torture Camps in Diamond Zone

Zimbabwean legislator Sure Mudiwa, who represents the Marange area, said human rights conditions have improved in Marange since 2008-2009 and dismissed reports of torture camps in the diamond field

The British government has urged Zimbabwe to investigate a BBC report saying security forces in the Marange diamond field are beating and raping prisoners at what the BBC described as "torture camps," though local sources questioned the report's accuracy.

The BBC said the camps hold workers recruited by police and military in control of the zone to illegally dig diamonds for them. It said the workers were detained after asking for a greater share of the profits. It said wildcat diamond miners have also been held.

British Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham said the United Kingdom “utterly condemns all extrajudicial killings and calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to transparently investigate both the dreadful events of 2008 and the disturbing allegations.”

Bellingham said Britain is absolutely committed to eradicating trade in conflict diamonds on the international marketplace. He said Britain backs a European Union deal to allow Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources, firms in Marange, to export diamonds.

Sources said South Africa has already rejected the European deal, saying Zimbabwe has fully complied with Kimberley and should be allowed to sell without oversight.

In its report the BBC alleges the existence of a torture camp called Diamond Base, which it says is about a mile from Mbada Diamonds operations. The report says it is operated by a friend of Mr. Mugabe. The BBC described diamond base as a “remote collection of military tents, with an outdoor razor wire enclosure where the prisoners are kept.”

But Zimbabwean legislator Sure Mudiwa, representing Marange for the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said things have improved in Marange, and dismissed reports of torture camps in the area.

But Mudiwa backed the British call for an investigation in Marange.

"Things have changed in Marange. I have observed less soldiers and more security guards employed by the mining companies and sometimes these are the ones who let dogs out on locals whose cattle would have strayed into the mining fields," said Mudiwa.

"My main concern right now is the issue of jobs which are being given to people coming from Harare and others not from Marange. There's also the partisan dishing out of jobs by ZANU-PF to its people. This and the issue of relocation are my main worries right now, otherwise there are no torture camps here," Mudiwa said.

Kimberley Process local non-governmental organization point person Shamiso Mtisi said human rights abuses continue in Marange but on a lower level than in previous years. He too rejected the contention that there are torture camps in Marange.

"In all the reports that we have and continue to receive, I have not found anything about torture camps," Mtisi said. "What I can confirm is happening on the ground is that right abuses still continue but the level has declined from that of...2006 to maybe 2009."

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu dismissed the BBC report, calling it ridiculous.

He said Zimbabwe will follow South Africa’s lead in rejecting the European proposal to allow only two of the mining concerns operating in Marange to export gems.