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Mugabe’s wife implicated in blood diamond trade

Jon Herskovitz

Johannesburg – The illicit diamond trade in Zimbabwe has led to the murder of thousands, enriched those close to President Robert Mugabe and been financed in part by the central bank, according to US documents on WikiLeaks.

“In a country filled with corrupt schemes, the diamond business in Zimbabwe is one of the dirtiest,” according to a classified document dated in November 2008 from the US embassy in the country, released this week on WikiLeaks.

Mugabe was forced into a unity government with long-time rivals nearly two years ago and the state has been trying to boost the economy by winning approval for diamond sales through the Kimberly Process, a world monitor of the diamond trade.

In the classified documents that date from before the unity government came to power, US diplomats cite a well established British mining executive as saying those close to Mugabe, including his wife, “have been extracting tremendous profits” from the Chiadzwa mine in the eastern part of the country.

“The diamonds that are sold to regime members and elites are sold for freshly printed Zimbabwean notes issued by the RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe),” one document from late 2008 cited British mining executive Andrew Cranswick as saying.

The stones dubbed “blood diamonds” because of the human rights abuses associated with their extraction, were then resold to foreign buyers, earning each of the members of the powerful group hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, it said.

Rights groups have accused Zimbabwe’s military of widespread atrocities in the diamond fields in 2008 as Mugabe’s previous government moved to stop thousands of illegal miners on the poorly secured fields in the east of the country.

Mugabe has accused Western countries of working to stop Zimbabwe from benefiting from its mineral resources.

Ministry of Mines secretary Thankful Musukutwa told a parliamentary committee earlier this year the government was complying with demands from diamond trade regulator Kimberly Process.

A separate document from January 2009 said that as the local currency became essentially worthless, the Zimbabwe military stepped more deeply into the diamonds trade, using hard cash from abroad to finance operations.

“This has not deterred the continued brisk diamond trade involving foreign buyers, including most prominently the Lebanese,” said a document from January 2009 citing a classified report from an unnamed US political officer.

Just before the power sharing government was installed, the military intensified its control over the diamond fields, aiming to gain as much money as possible, it said.

The government deployed soldiers at the diamond fields in Marange in 2008 to seal off the area and clamp down on illegal mining, but rights activists say this resulted in serious rights abuses by the army.

Villagers were uprooted and murders increased, the classified US documents said.

A classified document cited a village chief as saying the government had relocated as many as 25,000 villagers in an attempt to secure more money.

Zimbabwe is now struggling to sell its Marange diamonds after the Kimberley Process barred its members from dealing in the stones, saying their certification by global regulators did not guarantee they were free from human rights abuses. – Reuters

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