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Zimbabwe Orders South African Companies To Halt Marange Diamond Operations

Sources said the Mbada and Canadile companies launched operations in the Marange field without an environmental impact assessment, but others said the move may have been urged by the Kimberly Process which has said it intends to closely monitor mining operations in Marange

In a surprise move, the Zimbabwe government has ordered two South African companies that it engaged to develop the scandal-ridden Marange diamond field in eastern Manicaland province to cease mining operations there.

Sources said the two firms started operations in September without carrying out a required environmental impact assessment.

The sources said managers of the Mbada and Canadile companies have been flying in and out of Harare on a daily basis and have put in place equipment worth many millions of dollars in the Marange alluvial diamond field. So the stand-still order from Harare could cost the two firms dearly.

Meanwhile, sources said that the semi-official Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation can continue its own mining operations in Marange district.

VOA could not reach executives of the two companies or the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, which decided at a meeting in Namibia in November that it would closely monitor activities in the Marange field. Human rights groups have charged that the Zimbabwean military killed hundreds and forced many others to labor in diamond pits, allegations that a Kimberly Process team essentially confirmed after visiting the field earlier this year.

Political analyst Farai Maguwu of the Center for Research and Development in Mutare, Manicaland's capital, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the government order to the firms to cease operations was probably motivated by pressure from the Kimberly Process.

Meanwhile, authorities in Mozambique say the smuggling of Zimbabwean diamonds is rife in the border town of Manica.

Manica Administrator Jose Tefula told Radio Mozambique that the sleepy town is suddenly seeing an abundance of cash with four-wheel-drive vehicles common on its dilapidated streets and of foreigners from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia looking to deal for diamonds.

"I confirm that diamonds are being illegally sold in our district, and they've been smuggled from Zimbabwe," said Tefula. "Locally we don't have any diamonds".

Mozambican authorities at the Machipanda border crossing to Zimbabwe said they have seized more than half a kilogram of diamonds from a smuggler.

Said Machipanda border post chief Alberto Limeme: "It's difficult to fight this smuggling on the border, if there isn't tight control in the mines."