Zimbabwe nets 20 million from diamond sales

HARARE: Zimbabwe has grossed 19.6 million dollars from diamond sales during the first seven months of the year, government statistics showed Monday, amid concerns about rights abuses in the nation's diamond fields.

The state-run Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe could not provide statistics from last year, when many mining operations shut down due to world-record hyperinflation that forced many businesses to stop operating.

The Kimberley Process, the global diamond watchdog, estimates that last year Zimbabwe produced 43.8 million dollars worth of diamonds.

The southern African country only sells unpolished or rough diamonds, but last month the Kimberley Process warned against "blood diamonds" emanating from Zimbabwe's eastern Marange diamond fields.

A Kimberley team visited Zimbabwe to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Marange diamond fields, and recommended suspending diamond sales from the country for at least six months.

In a public report, the watchdog accused the Zimbabwe army of illegal mining in the Marange diamond fields, where it said civilians are subjected to "horrific" violence.

Zimbabwe has two other diamond mines, Murowa and River Ranch, which are Kimberley certified and are not involved in the claims of abuse.

Between January and June this year, Murowa diamond -- owned by Rio Zim -- mined 87,388 of carats compared to 135,000 carats at the same time last year, the company said in notice to shareholders.

Murowa blamed the decline in production due to depressed global prices.

There were no immediate figures from River Ranch as it is a privately owned firm.

The Kimberley Process was launched in 2003 to curb the flow of conflict diamonds into the mainstream market following wars in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone.