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Questions Linger After Auction of Diamonds From Troubled Zimbabwe Zone Is Canceled

Sources in Harare said the diamond auction was halted after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai raised concerns in a letter sent to Acting Mines Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, instructing him to halt the sale

Many questions remained on Friday following the cancellation this week of a proposed auction of 300,000 carats of diamonds from the Marange field in the east of the country where human rights abuses have been alleged triggering action by the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme.

Sources in Harare said the auction was halted on Thursday after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai raised concerns in a letter sent to acting Mines Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, instructing him to halt the sale.

VOA was unable to obtain further comment from Mnangagwa on Friday, but he said Thursday that that the government was not informed about the sale until press reports brought it to light.

Lawmaker Pearson Mungofa, who sits on the Parliamentary Committee on Mines, Energy, Tourism and Minerals, said all sales of Zimbabwean diamonds should be halted until it has been confirmed that Kimberly Process rules for export of the gems are being observed.

Mungofa, a House member for Highfield, Harare, and a member of Mr. Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, said his committee was surprised to hear of the auction called by Mbada Diamonds, a firm authorized by Harare to exploit the Marange field.

The legislator said the circumstances surrounding the proposed auction remained unclear but it seemed that it was intended to benefit certain people in the government and not Zimbabwean taxpayers.

Mungofa told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube that Mbada should not be allowed to sell diamonds until all Kimberly procedures are in place.

“We need the Kimberley process to be followed because if we don’t do that Zimbabweans will not benefit from these illegal deals,” said Mungofa.

Human rights advocacy group Global Witness welcomed Harare's decision to cancel the diamond auction, but said Zimbabwe must take concrete steps to show it is committed to cleaning up the diamond sector or risk suspension from the Kimberly Certification Process. The Kimberly process has raised a red flag in the matter, though it declined in November to suspend Zimbabwe.

Deputy Mines Minister Murisi Zwizwai said Zimbabwe was supposed to ask the Kimberly Process to appoint a monitor for export sales when the country was ready to sell Marange output, but this had not been done.

Zwizwai said it was still premature to hold an auction in light of all the issues surrounding diamonds coming out of the Marange alluvial field.

The deputy minister said it has been problematic to pull the military out of the area as private companies lack the means to seal off diamond deposits.

Global Witness campaigner Anne Dunnebacke told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that the army was continuing to perpetrate human rights abuses in Marange. Human Rights Watch issued a report several months ago charging that the military had killed some 200 people in the district, among other abuses including the alleged use of forced labor to extract diamonds.