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Zimbabwe Brings Controversial Diamonds to Market Under Kimberly Supervision

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu said the government is pleased at the funds generated by the diamond auction and how those monies can uplift the economy - but he refused to disclose how much was raised in Wednesday's sale

Zimbabwe on Wednesday resumed the international sale of diamonds from the controversial Marange field under supervision by the Kimberly Process which certified the rough stones for export. It was the country's first sale of such diamonds since the Kimberly Process last month eased a ban on export sales that was imposed in 2009.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Vice President John Nkomo officiated at the ceremony held at the Harare International Airport. VOA Studio 7 correspondent Irwin Chifera reported from the auction.

While welcoming the sale of the stones, Mr. Tsvangirai cautioned against overstating Zimbabwe's diamond wealth.

"I've heard and read of billions of dollars coming from today's sales. Please let's be realistic. Let's not create high expectations for our people," the prime minister said in remarks opening the auction.

"Ladies and gentleman, it is the sense of cabinet that the proceeds from this sale should benefit the generality of Zimbabweans," he continued. "However, I must also caution that we have to be both transparent and realistic in terms of our expectations from the sale of our diamonds."

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu said the government is ecstatic about the funds generated by the sale of diamonds, and how those monies can uplift the economy. But he refused to say how much was raised in the auction.

Zimbabwe Kimberly monitor Abbey Chikane told reporters however that slightly less than one million carats were sold while the rest of those in stock would await certification and another auction in September.

News agencies quoted Mr. Tsvangirai as saying the stones sold were worth some US$72 million.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator Dewa Mavhinga said the sale presents Finance Minister Tendai Biti with a challenge to make sure there is full transparency and accountability.

Economist John Robertson says he is concerned that the auction was shrouded in secrecy with little information released by authorities on the number of carats sold and the sums raised.

He noted that the sale of diamonds has already raised expectations among ordinary Zimbabweans for an improvement in living standards, with, for example, civil servants now calling for an immediate pay increase.

Elsewhere, the Zimbabwean unit of global mining giant Rio Tinto said it expects to resume exports of diamonds from other sources in a few days once a Harare ban on such sales imposed in May is lifted. Executive Neils Kristensen said the company has been communicating with the government about resuming such sales.

The government banned all diamond exports until the Kimberly Process certified rough stones from the Marange fields where two joint venture partners - Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Miners - are extracting the alluvial diamonds.

Human rights organizations have alleged serious abuses in the Marange district which is under military control, and the lack of transparency of the joint ventures has raised concerns the resource has been looted.