The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme's monitor for Zimbabwe, Abbey Chikane of South Africa, said on Thursday that the country is on track to meet minimum Kimberly requirements and that he will recommend to the watchdog group that it be allowed to start selling diamonds from the controversial Marange field.
VOA Studio 7 correspondent Irwin Chifera reported from Harare that Chikane told journalists that although he still had issues with aspects of the diamond extraction operations in the Marange field in eastern Manicaland province, progress has been made toward compliance. Despite allegations that diamonds have been illegally exported to the Gulf region, Chikane said those sales were not strictly speaking illegal though he had not signed off on them.
Also Thursday, Mines Minister Obert Mpofu declared a ban on diamond exports until the country secures Kimberly Process approval to sell diamonds from Marange. Mpofu told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that he imposed the ban because outsiders were getting the impression some Zimbabwean diamonds are more pure than others.
"We are talking about Zimbabwe diamonds, a sovereign country, but there seems to be a belief among our detractors that in Zimbabwe there are some diamonds which are pure or more acceptable to them than others," Mpofu told VOA. He has been accused of blocking parliamentary scrutiny of Marange operations.
The ban will affect a mine run by Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining house, and the small, privately-owned River Ranch mine, both of which have Kimberley Process approval to export their rough diamonds.
Human rights groups have charged that political cronies of President Robert Mugabe and the army have mainly profited from illegal mining in Marange. Human Rights Watch and other groups have been lobbying for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Kimberly Process and say Marange stones are "blood diamonds" of a sort, though Harare has responded that diamonds from the district have not funded armed conflict in the region.
Parliamentary Mines Committee member Moses Mare said his panel was unable to discuss the Marange field in detail with Chikane when they met on Thursday, as legislators have been denied access to the area.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator Dewa Mavhinga told VOA that Chikane was too hasty in his statement to the effect that Zimbabwe was achieving compliance with KP standards, particularly when he earlier expressed dissatisfaction that information was withheld from him on a previous fact-finding mission.