KIMBERLEY Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) monitor Abbey Chikane has urged government to put in place proper security measures at Chiadzwa diamond fields to facilitate the withdrawal of soldiers accused of gross human rights abuses.
Chikane said although there was need to remove the military, the process would have to be gradual to avoid the flooding of the diamond fields by panners and smugglers.
Pressure is mounting on government to demilitarise Chiadzwa diamond fields in a move that human rights activists say would stop gross rights abuses and stem the smuggling of gems by security forces and their cohorts.
The demilitarisation process could however be slowed down by official fears that the removal of soldiers, whose presence at Chiadzwa has been widely criticised amid accusations of serious human rights violations, could open the floodgates for panners to invade the area again.
Moves to demilitarise Chiadzwa came as more than 10 families from Chirasika Village in Marange face eviction without compensation to pave way for mining activities. Mutare Rural District Council last week gave the families a verbal two-week notice. This is contrary to KPCS’s recommendations that evicted families should be compensated and moved to adequately resourced areas.
Chikane told journalists yesterday that he had convinced authorities that Marange diamond fields must be demilitarised, although gradually.
He said removing soldiers at once from unsecured areas would create a free-for-all situation. Gradual withdrawal was therefore the best option, he said.
“The general consensus was that although the area should be demilitarised, the army would have to remain until a conducive environment for Canadile and Mbada who have mining rights in the area has been created,” said Chikane.
Chikane, who has been in the country since Monday to assess whether diamond mining in Marange met minimum KPCS requirements, said demilitarising Chiadzwa was under serious consideration, an issue which he said was critical to ensure Zimbabwe fulfils KPCS procedures.
“There has been a debate regarding the demilitarisation of Marange and I posed a question to the parliamentary portfolio committee (that) should the area be demilitarised or not? And if they did what should be put in place?” Chikane said.
“Issues raised were there might be a need for training of soldiers so that their activities are consistent with what is required of a professional defence force. There is a possibility that if the army is withdrawn, panners and illegal dealers would move in. That is the general consensus. The army will remain in Marange until and after government has put in place proper security measure,” he said.
Marauding panners swarmed Chiadzwa in 2007 after news of the prevalence of alluvial diamonds broke. They dug and extracted diamonds, creating a diamond black market which engulfed the country and the region.
Last year the World Diamond Council urged government to end human rights abuses at Marange following allegations by Human Rights Watch that the army was engaged in forced labour, smuggling, beatings and even killings. The organisation accused the military of killing at least 200 people, a claim government has denied.
Human Rights Watch insisted that during the 2008/9 period, soldiers went on a rampage throughout Manicaland assaulting people and looting property from terrified villagers, business people and travellers whom they accused of amassing wealth through illegal diamond mining.
Under pressure government is now moving towards gradual withdrawal of soldiers from Chiadzwa.
Chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Mines and Energy, Edward Chindori-Chininga, said the army needed re-orientation to ensure rights abuses stopped in Marange.
“The army should be removed at the right time, however there is need for reorientation and training of the army,” he said.
However, pressure is mounting on government to remove soldiers who are now intensely disliked by villagers in Chiadzwa for their abuses.
In his report after a visit to Zimbabwe in March, Chikane said 4 207 households were identified for resettlement to pave the way for diamond mining operations.
Total costs of resettlement was calculated by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing to be almost $12 million and investors showed willingness to share the cost equally while the government identified Arda Transau farm for resettlement of affected households.
According to Chikane, each household would get one hectare for a homestead and half a hectare for crop farming.
MP for Mutare West Shuwa Mudiwa yesterday confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent that families in his constituency were facing eviction without compensation.
A lawyer with Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) Shamiso Mtisi said the evictions were unjust and did not meet international standards on relocation of people.
Paul Nyakazeya, Feluna Nleya and Wongai Zhangazha