Zimbabwe: KP Review Visit Postponed a Few Weeks

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RAPAPORT… The Kimberley Process (KP) review of Zimbabwe, which was to take place in May 2007, is likely to be postponed a few weeks, Rapaport News has learned.

The much anticipated review visit was scheduled for the final week of May but, according to sources close to the KP, the proposed schedule did not suit Zimbabwe officials and alternative dates are being sought, possibly for the first half of June.

The review is being headed by Russia, with South Africa, Norway, the World Diamond Council, and non-governmental organizations also participating.

Zimbabwe has recently come under greater scrutiny from the international diamond community due to the political situation there and following reports of rampant diamond smuggling out of the country.

Recent reports estimate that the country is losing $40 million to  $50 million per week in smuggled diamonds and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s governor Gideon Gono recently said that the country has lost at least $400 million in the past nine months through looting of diamonds and smuggling of the precious stones.

While Zimbabwe’s issues were discussed at the recent World Diamond Council meeting in Jerusalem, most believe the country has been in general compliance with the KP certification scheme.

“We are concerned about Zimbabwe, but it is beyond the scope of the Kimberley Process as they are dealing in illicit diamonds and not conflict diamonds which are fueling a war,” Abbey Chikane, chairman of the Jewellery Council of South Africa, told Rapaport News.

Even Global Witness’  Alex Yearsley drew more urgent attention to the Central African Republic (CAR,) the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Venezuela, as countries raising KP alarm bells.

Yearsley, however, referred to the Zimbabwe situation as “delicate to say the least” and warned that it was causing unnecessary negative publicity for the KP “through verified reports of massive smuggling of low quality industrial grade diamonds into and from Zimbabwe.”

“Whilst technically not conflict diamonds, the majority of the profits from these diamond sales are going to a corrupt clique of military, police, and government officials who are involved in perpetuating massive human rights abuses on a chronic scale in this desperate country,” Yearsley said.

Despite these reports, the Zimbabwe government is widely seen as having been cooperative with the KP and has consistently submitted monthly reports to the European Commission, which currently chairs the KP, about its monitoring activities.

John Makandwa, principal minerals development officer at the Zimbabwe Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, told Rapaport News the government has implemented a number of measures to ensure its compliance with the KP but that loopholes still exist.

“You do what you can but sometimes it is not possible to be exhaustive,” Makandwa said. “We are prepared for the review team and hopeful that all diamond sources in Zimbabwe are KP compliant.”

Mokandwa added that the government is “ready to be guided” in problematic areas.

Zimbabwe has three diamond mines currently in operation, including the Murowa mine – partly owned by Rio Tinto; River Ranch – which is the subject of an ongoing ownership dispute; and the Marange mine – which the government recently took over following the discovery of diamonds that resulted in massive illegal alluvial mining six months ago.

After Marange was closed for the whole of March, the government was reported to have begun alluvial diamond exploration again in mid-April despite acknowledgements from within the government, that it lacked the technical know-how to operate the mine.

While the reports of smuggling emerged mainly from Marange, allegations recently surfaced that United Nations Development Program (UNDP) staff and vehicles were used at  River Ranch to smuggle diamonds into South Africa. UNDP denies the charge although letters obtained by Rapaport News confirm the vehicle and at least one employee in question were linked to the UNDP.

The KP review team however is unlikely to get involved in local legal squabbles and is expected rather to focus on the technical compliance of the country as a whole.

Stephane Chardon, secretariat for the KP, said that while the final itinerary has not yet been finalized, the review team is most likely to visit all three mining areas and that it is aware of the issues at each.

Nevertheless, he explained that the mandate of the team is to assess whether the system in Zimbabwe as a whole meets the minimum requirements of the KP in terms of its import and export, certification and internal controls.

“[The team’s results] should reflect the capacity of Zimbabwe to implement and maintain its internal controls to the extent that it can ensure that conflict diamonds are not coming out of Zimbabwe,” Chardon said.

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