Tuesday, August 10, 2010

(NEWZIMBABWE) Mugabe urges army to 'jealously guard' natural resources

Mugabe urges army to 'jealously guard' natural resources
as he arrives at a football stadium for the Defence Forces Day celebrations
by AFP
10/08/2010 00:00:00

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Tuesday urged his army to protect Zimbabwe's natural resources against "imperialists".

"My message to you today is for you to remain loyal to your country and jealously guard its independence, sovereignty and natural resources," Mugabe said in an address to troops to mark Defence Forces Day.

"Remain wary of renewed subtle imperialistic efforts to dispossess us of the control of our natural resources," the veteran leader said in an apparent warning to Western countries.

Zimbabwe's military is at the centre of controversy over diamonds from the eastern Marange fields, where an international watchdog last year said soldiers had used beatings, forced labour and other abuses against civilians to gain control of the region's diamond trade.

The global diamond trade watchdog Kimberley Process in January blocked a diamond sale in Zimbabwe, saying the country had not yet complied with human rights standards.

Kimberley monitor Abbey Chikane said last month that Zimbabwe had met minimum standards, but his report failed to convince all the members of the scheme, which has allowed the country to make only two sales of existing diamond stocks.

Zimbabwe says it has handed operations at Marange to two South African firms, Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Miners. But Human Rights Watch in June cited new reports that soldiers in Marange were engaging in forced labour, torture, beatings and harassment.

Last year the US-based group said more than 200 people were killed after the military seized the fields in late 2008. A Kimberley team visited the Marange fields on Tuesday to confirm whether abuses have ceased on the eve of the first authorised sale of diamond stocks in Harare, secretary for mines Thankful Musukutwa told AFP.

"Some of the members will monitor the auctions on Wednesday, while the other members of the team will remain in Marange and continue their review on the operations by the companies there," he said.

Chikane was in Harare meeting with government officials ahead of the auction Wednesday, Musukutwa said. He will certify and examine all diamonds produced by the two companies.

International auditors Ernest and Young will oversee the sale as part of Zimbabwe's agreement with the Kimberley Process. Mugabe had been expected to open the sale, but he left Harare on Tuesday for a visit to China to attend the World Expo in Shanghai, according to state television.

Zimbabwe's case posed Kimberley's toughest challenge in years. The government argued that the scheme was created to prevent diamonds from financing rebel movement against legitimate governments, which is not the case in Marange.

The Marange fields cover some 66,000 hectares (163,000 acres), but the gems were only discovered there in 2006, making them one of the few new sources of income for Zimbabwe.

Mining is the country's main foreign currency earner.

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