24 June 2009

Zimbabwe: Minister Denies Mass Killings in Chiadzwa Diamond Fields

Deputy Mining Minister Murisi Zwizwai has denied there were any killings in the eastern Marange diamond fields last year, telling a meeting of the Kimberley Process in Namibia on Wednesday that claims were a result of 'unsubstantiated reports'.

There have been widespread accounts of killings in the Chiadzwa area, which has been the centre of controversy since last October when the army was called in to disperse thousands of illegal diamond hunters. But Zwizwai told Wednesday's meeting of the Kimberley Process, the international scheme to curb the sale of 'blood diamonds', that the situation in Marange had been brought under control.

"Contrary to allegations in the media, nobody was killed by security forces during an operation at Marange, where about 30,000 people descended onto the alluvial mining field," Zwizwai told the 200 delegates at the conference.

"These people comprised of cunning, die-hard illegal diamond diggers," Zwizwai said. "This compelled government to conduct a special operation to flush out the illegal diamond miners and to bring order and sanity to the area."

The government had originally, illegally, seized the Chiadzwa diamond claim in 2007, and set off a diamond rush when it encouraged locals to help themselves. But the arrival of the army last year resulted in violence and murder, after the area was sealed off with military roadblocks and troops. Accounts from survivors of the military onslaught detailed the killings, speaking of machine-gun attacks by helicopter and armed attacks by troops on the ground. Civilians in the region also reported that anyone attempting to enter Chiadzwa was arrested and often tortured and killed.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have said that about 5,000 people were arrested during the army operation, with three quarters of them showing signs of having been tortured severely. The MDC has also claimed that hundreds of people were buried in mass graves "to hide the regime's murderous activities," and that the soldiers sent to 'guard' the fields had become illegal diamond dealers themselves.

Human rights groups have called for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Kimberley Process, over claims of forced evictions and other abuses in Marange. The World Federation of Diamond Bourses in April banned the sale of diamonds from Marange, but Kimberley has resisted taking a tough stance.

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