Zimbabwe vows to double diamond production in 2013

HARARE (AFP) - Zimbabwe sold almost US$685 million (S$845.5 million) worth of diamonds last year and wants to more than double output from the country's controversial gem fields this year, a top mining official told AFP on Tuesday.

"We got US$684.5 million from diamond exports in 2012," Goodwills Masimirembwa, chairman of the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) said.

Mr Masimirembwa said Zimbabwe hopes to increase exports this year to 16.7 million carats from the eight million carats sold in 2012. He accused the United States of blocking Zimbabwe's diamond sales globally by issuing threats to potential buyers.

"Last year sanctions (against Zimbabwe trading companies) were biting. The US threatened purchasers of Zimbabwe diamonds which resulted in low diamond sales in countries like India that normally buy from us," Mr Masimirembwa said.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has accused diamond mining companies of not remitting revenue to the government last year, saying out of some US$600 million expected from diamonds, only US$40 million had made its way into the central purse.

"I don't know what the Finance minister will be saying but what I know is that diamond mining companies have always been paying 15 percent of the royalties to government," Mr Masimirembwa said.

An Ottawa-based watchdog Partnership Africa Canada last year said around US$2 billion worth of diamonds were pilfered out of Zimbabwe over four years by a network of government ministers and military officials aligned with President Robert Mugabe.

The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme which regulates global diamond trade lifted tight monitoring of diamond sales in Zimbabwe last year after judging the country compliant with minimum standards, a move that was criticised by rights groups which claim serious rights abuses have taken place at the Marange diamond mines.

Rights activists have said 200 miners were killed in the 2008 crackdown, and the country was briefly suspended from the so-called Kimberley Process (KP), an 80-member group that certifies global sales of "conflict-free diamonds."

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