THE European Union has softened its stance on Marange diamonds and has, for the first time, lauded the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme for withdrawing monitors and allowing unhindered exports.
Government immediately welcomed the new position, saying it hoped the stance might lead to accelerated remo-val of illegal sanctions the bloc imposed on Zimbabwe.
EU high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Mrs Cathrine Ashton, confirmed this last Friday.
"The decision to lift the special monitoring measures under the Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) administrative decision with respect to the Marange mining area in Zimbabwe is a positive step forward.
"This recognises the significant progress that Zimbabwe has made to improve KP compliance," she said.
The KP's Working Group on Monitoring in November last year appointed a team to monitor and certify the sale of Marange diamonds when it met in the DRC.
However, during the just-ended KP intercessory meeting in Washington DC, the WGM told delegates that the Government of Zimbabwe had shown full transparency and accountability by ensuring that 15 percent of royalties from Marange diamonds were channelled to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.
It is against this backdrop that it was agreed that Zimbabwe should now sign Marange export certificates without consulting KP monitors, Abbey Chikane and Mark Van Bockstael.
"High representative (Mrs) Catherine Ashton welcomes the positive progress that the Kimberley Process has made this year to strengthen controls on the global trade in rough diamonds.
"The EU believes that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme remains a unique tool for conflict prevention and plays an important role in supporting participants to ensure good governance and transparency."
Mrs Ashton said the EU appreciated the contribution of the Civil Society Coalition representatives in Zimbabwe and welcomed the country's renewed commitment to allow them access to the Marange diamond mining area.
Diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe have been allowed access to Chiadzwa diamond fields although some of them continue peddling false reports of human rights abuses.
"The EU also welcomes Zimbabwe's willingness to sustain efforts on KP compliance and to enhance revenue transparency," she said.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu yesterday described the EU stance as positive.
"It's a welcome development for the EU to say that given that they were in the forefront for demonising our diamonds.
"It is also important to note that the Washington (KP) decision was done under the chairmanship of the EU. We hope this will accelerate the removal of the sanctions they imposed on Zimbabwe," said Minister Mpofu.
Mrs Ashton said the EU also welcomed progress that had been made by Guinea to improve KP compliance, as well as Liberia's commitment to addressing current shortcomings.
"The EU notes with appreciation Cote d'Ivoire's programme to work towards reintegration into the KPCS. The EU chairs the "Friends of Cote d'Ivoire" group which supports this aim. The EU's Joint Research Centre is helping to develop a common methodology for satellite monitoring of diamond mining in Cote d'Ivoire and supporting projects in the artisanal mining sector to improve chain of custody through the Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development Project (PRADD) which is co-funded by the EU's instrument for stability.
"The EU affirms the importance of the KP's work on reform in order to address the challenges of the future. The EU warmly welcomes the ongoing work to improve implementation of KP and congratulates South Africa on its appointment as chair of the KP for 2013.
"The EU looks forward to working closely with the South Africa chairmanship to bring renewed impetus and strength to the KP," she said.
The KP is a voluntary and international certification scheme which requires governments to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free.
The KP, established in 2003, has 51 members representing 76 countries (the European Commission represents all EU member-states).The EU chairs the KP WGM and in that role oversees issues of KP participants' compliance, together with members of the WGM.
Zimbabwe has become a major player in diamond mining and during the Zimbabwe Diamond Conference in Victoria recently, experts said the country has potential to produce over 160 million carats a year, which translates to about 25 percent of global output.