/ 9 August 2011

EU asks Zim to probe diamond mine torture claims

Eu Asks Zim To Probe Diamond Mine Torture Claims

The European Union asked Zimbabwe’s government on Tuesday to open an inquiry into claims of torture camps in the country’s diamond mines as alleged in a BBC documentary.

A BBC Panorama programme aired on Monday showed people saying they had been raped or hurt by police and soldiers who forced locals to mine in the diamond-rich Marange area in eastern Zimbabwe.

“We are greatly concerned by the allegations and ask Zimbabwe’s government to open an inquiry into these claims,” said Michael Mann, spokesperson for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.

But on Tuesday Zimbabwe’s mines minister dismissed the allegations as “ridiculous”.

Minister Obert Mpofu said the Panorama programme was based on false information meant to block the country from benefitting from its diamond sales.

“That is a ridiculous allegation from the desperate BBC,” Mpofu told Agence France-Presse.

“Why would the army do that? This is the usual BBC nonsense. These are crazy people who want to frustrate our development.”

Diamonds were discovered in the Marange area in 2006, prompting an influx of thousands of people hoping to strike gold.

In 2008 Zimbabwe’s army cleared the area — killing as many as 200 people, according to Human Rights Watch — and put locals to work in the diamond fields instead.

Multiple cases of torture, murder and child labour in Marange were revealed in a 2009 Human Rights Watch report.

The findings were corroborated by experts who refused to grant the area a Kimberley Process certificate assuring the gems were not “blood diamonds”, which would be stones from an area where diamond sales fund conflict.

But Mann reiterated that the EU does not have “solid proof” of the existence of torture camps and was pushing for two mines in the Marange region that were approved by KP experts to be allowed to sell diamonds again.

“We are not talking about a general return to diamond exports but authorising sales from two mines because they meet the standards of the Kimberley process,” Mann said. — AFP