14 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Heated Debate Over 'Sanctions' At Diamond Conference

Officials from Zimbabwe's Mines Ministry and many of the invited guests to the Diamond Conference at Victoria Falls, used the second day on Tuesday to focus on the issue of what they called 'Western sanctions' and to attack American officials, who they accused of hindering the country's diamond trade.

The Mugabe regime claims Zimbabwe's diamond industry is being hindered by sanctions. In fact these are targeted sanctions which are mainly an asset freeze and travel ban on key members of the regime. Two diamond companies affiliated with the security sector chefs are on the list, because of the human rights abuses that occurred in the diamond mining areas.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu who hosted the two-day conference, invited individuals and political figures who support ZANU PF, in an attempt to gain credibility for Zimbabwe's tainted diamond trade.

One of the unfortunate targets was the American Gillian Milovanovic, who currently chairs the Kimberly Process (KP), a global watchdog set up to eliminate the trade in so-called blood diamonds.

Milovanovic was challenged to recuse herself by Abbey Chikane, a KP monitor for South Africa accused of supporting ZANU PF. Chikane claimed there was a conflict of interest because US 'sanctions' imposed on Zim are hurting the diamond trade. Chikane himself is a controversial figure who fell out with civil society groups in Zimbabwe.

Milovanovic argued that the sanctions are a bilateral issue that has nothing to do with diamonds. She is quoted as saying: "Compliance with the KP certificate is unrelated to the issue of sanctions."

Mike Davis, a campaigner for Global Witness, dismissed Chikane's role as an accuser, saying he is behaving in a hypocritical manner because he is a compromised figure himself who previously betrayed the trust of leading civil society activists in Zimbabwe.

"He even went to the extent of an unauthorized mission to Zimbabwe in November 2010, to authorize thousands of diamonds for sale on behalf of the KP, which he had no mandate to do," Davis told SW Radio Africa.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu also unleashed a public attack on Milovanovic, saying most of the Indian and Arab traders and investors at the conference were "scared" of her.

Mpofu said: "They are coming to me whispering, scared that they will be heard by the Americans who will interfere with their accounts".

According to reports, other delegates from India, Israel and Dubai told Milovanovic that the KP is creating conditions for the illicit trade in Zimbabwe diamonds, by maintaining sanctions against the country. Milovanovic refused to be drawn into the argument.

Davis explained that there is a clear threat posed in the way that diamonds are being controlled by elements of the security apparatus. With an election due next year the concern is that the diamonds will be used to fund violence that will assist the Mugabe regime to retain power.

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