LONDON (TrustLaw) - Corrupt police and army officers assigned to guard Zimbabwe’s diamond fields are running illegal mining syndicates and creaming off the rewards, according to a local journalist.
The allegations come just days after the lifting of an international ban on sales of diamonds from the country’s Marange diamond fields.
The government launched a brutal crackdown on illegal mining in the area three years ago.
But Zimbabwean journalist Andrew Mambondiyani said thousands of illegal miners had flooded back, often working at night in cahoots with the poorly paid police officers manning the fields.
Marange, considered the largest diamond find in the last century, is largely untapped, making its potential huge. But Mambondiyani is worried that very few people are benefiting from the diamonds.
In an article on the Open Democracy website he describes how illegal miners told him they were working with unscrupulous members of the police, army and security guards to gain access to the fields.
One miner called Bemba Banda told him: “…we are working as syndicates with the law enforcement agents who allow us to go into the fields and mine for a specific time at night.
“Normally a police or army officer forms a syndicate with say four or five illegal miners. After getting diamonds they sell it to illegal diamond buyers who are available in the area and split the proceeds among members. The law enforcement agents get the lion’s share.”
Illegal panners say they often hide the diamonds in their mouths to get them past police checkpoints.
EXPORT BAN LIFTED
The Marange fields hit the headlines in 2008 when heavily armed police and soldiers launched a massive crackdown on illegal mining. Human Rights Watch said 200 people were killed in the operation which was widely condemned by the international community.
But Mambondiyani said human rights abuses continued. He said illegal panners told him how they had been beaten up and tortured by police and soldiers during raids and that some people had been mauled to death by dogs.
The allegations echo those made in a BBC report in August which said the security forces were operating a torture camp in Marange.
It said the police and military recruited people to illegally dig for diamonds. Those who demanded too much pay or who mined independently were beaten, raped and savaged by dogs, it added.
Mambondiyani said the Marange area has attracted illegal diamond dealers from countries including Pakistan, Israel, India and Nigeria. Some are staying with local villagers while others have established bases in neighbouring Mozambique.
The illegal miners are based in the mountains, hills and bushes around the diamond fields. But the journalist quoted one diamond panner as saying that police warn them to stay away ahead of visits by government ministers or members of the Kimberley Process, (KP) the international system regulating trade in diamonds.
Exports of Marange diamonds were banned in 2009, putting pressure on Zimbabwe to clean up its diamond industry. But the ban was lifted last week after inspections by Kimberley Process monitors.
However, Mambondiyani quoted the diamond panner as saying: “We are warned of the impending visits and we don’t approach the fields during those visits.
“When KP officials came to the fields they did not see any panner and they concluded that everything was OK in Marange.”
The Kimberley Process was set up in 2003 to eliminate trade in diamonds that fund violence and rights abuses.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)