A Kimberley Process meeting in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, concluded on Thursday with a unilateral ruling on Zimbabwe diamond sales by the group's chairman which sparked a walkout by non-governmental participants and left the KP in disarray.
Chairman Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo issued an administrative notice announcing "with immediate effect" the approval of the sale of rough stones from the Marange field in eastern Zimbabwe by two firms working claims there.
South African Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu was said to be trying to help Yamba gain support for the notice on Wednesday evening.
It remained unclear if Kimberley Process members had achieved a consensus around the ruling by Yamba, but Zimbabwe's Affirmative Action Group, aligned with the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, declared the administrative notice a "victory."
"We have won. We're very excited and encouraged by this decision," Affirmative Action Group Secretary General Tafadzwa Musarara said in an interview from Kinshasa.
His group published Yamba's administrative notice on its Facebook page. The entry said the text was "presented to" the Kimberley meeting but not necessarily approved.
In addition to authorizing Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources - formerly Canadile Miners - to sell their rough stones from Marange immediately, the text provided for the quick certification of other companies operating in Marange, some Chinese.
Civil society coalition member Alfred Brownell said Yamba’s decision was inappropriate because Zimbabwe has not fully complied with requirements set by Kimberley.
Significantly, the text abolished the position of the local focal point or civil society monitor, established after Kimberley's South African monitor in Zimbabwe, Abbey Chikane, came under fire for handing Harare authorities documents given to him by an activist.
Local focal point Shamiso Mtisi said he was disappointed by the Kimberley Process.
Protesting what they considered to be an abandonment of human rights concerns, civil society observers walked out of the plenary meeting on Thursday, refusing to participate and issuing a vote of no confidence on the global diamond watchdog group.
"A succession of weak deals between Zimbabwe and the KP culminated this week in a draft agreement being tabled which falls far short of what is needed to protect civilians living and working in Marange," the NGOs said in a statement after the meeting.
"The proposed deal fails to safeguard the role of Zimbabwean civil society organizations seeking to monitor conditions on the ground ... it does not contain sufficient checks and balances to prevent substantial volumes of illicit diamonds from entering the global diamond supply chain," further undermining Kimberley Process credibility.
Partnership Africa Canada's Research Director Alan Martin said this was the first time the organization's civil society observers have broken with the KP. Martin said consumers should be concerned they have no guarantee they are buying "clean" diamonds.
NGO observers pointed to a "significant, and widening, gap between how the Kimberley Process presents itself, and what it is actually achieving."
Martin said that in light of Yamba's administrative ruling, the force of which remained in question late Thursday, the meeting was a "huge defeat" for the Kimberley Process.
Musarara said his organization was "excited and encouraged" by the outcome.
No statements were forthcoming from the US, Canadian, Australian and European Union members of the Kimberley Process, which had refused to recognize an earlier unilateral decision by Yamba allowing Zimbabwe to sell Marange diamonds with no supervision.
World Diamond Council representative Andrew Bone in an interview from London said the text was merely "accepted as the basis for further discussion," not as a final ruling. Bone told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the diamond industry is seeking clarification from Kimberley on the status of Marange diamonds.
"The industry very much wants this to be resolved," he said.