Zimbabwe to withdraw army from diamond fields-paper
Zimbabwe's government will withdraw soldiers from poorly secured diamond fields in the eastern part of the country following criticism over rights abuses, an official told the state-owned Sunday Mail, Reuters reported.
Zimbabwe deployed troops to seal off the Marange diamond fields in 2008 to clamp down on illegal mining and smuggling after some 30,000 panners descended on the area. Human rights groups accuse the army of committing atrocities in the fields.
Last week Human Rights Watch released a damning report alleging that about 200 people had been killed during a military crackdown in the diamond fields.
A Kimberly Process review team -- mandated to monitor and regulate diamond trade globally -- visited Zimbabwe's diamond mines last week and called for the "immediate demilitarisation" of the Marange fields and measures to stop smuggling.
Zimbabwe's deputy mines minister Murisi Zwizwai, whose department has denied charges of killings by soldiers, told the state-controlled Sunday Mail that the army would be gradually pulled out of the diamond fields, which cover 66,000 hectares.
"We agreed to remove soldiers but it will be done in phases while proper security settings would be put in place," Zwizwai told the paper after meeting the Kimberly Process team.
The Zimbabwe government also asked for assistance in modernising the Chiadzwa diamond mining operations in Marange, currently being conducted by the under-funded state firm Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.
Industry experts say official diamond sales account for less than 10 percent of Zimbabwe's mineral earnings, but have the potential to join gold and platinum among the country's main earners if the government clamps down on smuggling.
Zimbabwe's unity government, formed by rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in February, is battling to raise $10 billion to rescue the country's economy after years of contraction and hyperinflation.
Western donors, whose financial support is seen as key to economic recovery, remain skeptical and have demanded broad reforms and an end to rights abuses before providing aid.