Human rights and civic activists close to the Kimberley Process on Monday criticized the United Arab Emirates for releasing to the Zimbabwean government some US$160 million in Marange diamonds it had confiscated last November en route to India, saying that the stones should have been held pending further investigation of the illegal traffic.
The Emirates released the diamonds based on a controversial decision by the Kimberley Process's chairman, Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying two of the main companies extracting diamonds from the Marange field – Mbada and Marange Resources – were free to sell their production into the international market.
Yamba's declaration has sparked concerns that the Kimberley Process, established as a mechanism to block illicit diamond trading by rebels seeking to overthrow legitimate governments - might collapse or become irrelevant to present-day challenges.
Mines Minister Obert Mpofu confirmed the Emirates move, adding, "We still have hurdles to jump before it is a smooth sailing. We notice that it has not sunk (in) to America that it lost its efforts to have our diamonds off the world market."
Mpofu said Kimberley through Yamba's administrative advisory had lifted the embargo on Marange diamonds at its recent meeting in Kinshasa. But the United States, Canada and the European Union have characterized Yamba's advisory as a draft unsupported by a consensus of Kimberly members, and maintained prohibitions on Marange stones.
The Kimberley Process imposed a ban on Marange exports in June 2009 due to alleged human rights abuses in the fields, including beatings and killings by the military then as now in control of the field. Mpofu has promised a phased withdrawal of the armed forces from the Marange zone, but rights activists say much more remains to be done.
Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation Chairman Godwills Masimirembwa last week urged the Emirates and Belgium to release stones they had seized last year. He could not be reached Monday, but Mpofu said the diamonds were illegally held.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator Dewa Mavhinga called the Emirates decision hasty considering that Yamba’s decision has been challenged.