Illegal diamond mining by Zimbabwean troops is leading to bloodshed and attacks against civilians, said a global watchdog group formed to cut the flow of so-called "blood diamonds."
Residents and workers contributed accounts of attacks detailed by the interim findings of the Kimberley Process after a weeklong investigation in Zimbabwe. The probe started days after a Human Rights Watch report accused the nation’s armed forces of violently taking over the diamond fields in Marange district and killing about 200 people since last year. Some victims of the clash were buried in mass graves, the report said. Lameck Chiso, 29, said he was stopped at a police checkpoint on his way from work in the diamond fields. “Three men in army uniform jumped into my car and asked me to drive them back to the mining area,” Chiso said. They took his money and urged him to praise the “wonderful job” the army was doing of restoring order to the Marange diamond area, Chiso added. “I complied, but they responded by assaulting me with the back of a gun on my back,” he said. Kimberly Process officials urged the government to demilitarize the diamond fields and investigate the accusations against the military. Tapiwa, 32, who declined to give his last name, said he has scars on his back and head from beatings he got when troops found him in the mining area. Such stories are common, said Georgette Gagnon, director of Human Rights Watch. The organization said more than 100 witnesses, including soldiers and children, were interviewed for its report. “The police and army have turned this peaceful area into a nightmare of lawlessness and horrific violence,” Gagnon said. “Zimbabwe’s new government should get the army out of the fields, put a stop to the abuse and prosecute those responsible.” The money from blood diamonds can end up funding rebel violence, the Kimberley Process group said. Separately, Human Rights Watch has accused the armed forces of funneling money from the fields into ZANU-PF, President Robert Mugabe’s party. The government decried some aspects of the report, saying the critics were trying to smear the Mugabe’s party. “I can confirm that there has been illegal mining taking place in Zimbabwe, but we seem to be getting on top of the situation now,” said Kembo Mohadi, Zimbabwe’s co-minister of home affairs. The government has not been able to verify allegations of deaths and mass graves, Mohadi said. “As a responsible government, we have started investigating these reports,” he said, adding that mining proceeds in the cash-strapped nation are not being distributed to any particular group. “The money will not be handled by any party but by the Treasury,” he said.