Zimbabwe running ‘torture diamond mines’

THE Zimbabwe security forces are running illegal mining camps in the country’s Marange diamond fields where civilians are beaten and forced into intensive labour, the BBC has reported.

The Marange fields have been at the centre of a years-long controversy over abuses by President Robert Mugabe’s army, forcing the diamond watchdog in 2009 to suspend exports of gems from the eastern fields.

The BBC Panorama programme claims to have uncovered camps where prisoners and civilians are forced to mine the gems and are whipped and tortured as punishment. The main camp, known locally as Diamond Base, is a tented military-like enclosure with razor wire, where the workers are held, the report said.

“Even if someone dies there, the soldiers do not disclose, because they do not want it known,” an officer in Zimbabwe’s military told the BBC on condition of anonymity.

“It is a place of torture where sometimes miners are unable to walk on account of the beatings,” a victim released from the main camp in February told the BBC.

A former member of a paramilitary police unit who worked in the camp in late 2008 said that he once tortured prisoners by mock-drowning them and whipping them on their genitals. He added that dogs were ordered by a handler to maul prisoners. One woman was bitten on the breast by the dogs whilst he was working in the camp.

“I do not think she survived,” he said.

Civilians caught mining for themselves are among those punished.

Monitors said the military seized control of the fields in late 2008, violently evicting tens of thousands of small miners and then beating and raping civilians to force them to mine the gems.

In June the Kimberley Process watchdog approved the export of rough diamonds from Marange by two companies, in a decision supported by China and India but opposed by Western nations, rights groups and the industry.

Zimbabwe conducted a KP-monitored sale last year, although the move was opposed by countries such as Canada and United States.

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