June 23, 2011 / 9:45 PM / 6 years ago

Diamond watchdog divided over Zimbabwe diamonds

* Kimberley Process divided over Zimbabwe diamonds

* Statement signs off on Marange stones, others say no

By Jonny Hogg

KINSHASA, June 23 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has been given the green light to sell diamonds from its Marange diamond fields by the industry's leading certification system, but the decision did not have the backing of all members.

Participants of the Kimberley Process, which aims to stop "conflict diamonds" entering the market, met this week in Democratic Republic of Congo to discuss the Marange diamond fields but remained divided over a final statement.

Rights groups say abuses have taken place against illegal miners, smuggling is rife and some mines in Marange remain in the hands of Zimbabwe's military, charges denied by Harare.

An inspection team from Congo, current chair of the Kimberley Process, found that Zimbabwe met the minimum necessary standards and a statement on Thursday said Zimbabwe could start selling diamonds from there again, albeit with some monitoring.

Zimbabwean Minister of Mines Obert Mpofu said he had been seeking unsupervised exports. "(But) we have no choice but to accept. We want to be treated like any other country, I'm going to sell our diamonds now," he told Reuters.

Last year, Zimbabwe was allowed by the Kimberley Process to sell a small amount of diamonds. But some, including the United States, Canada and the European Union, say human rights issues remain.

Daniel Baer, deputy assistant secretary for human rights and labour at the U.S. State Department, said the statement did not have the full backing of Kimberley Process members.

"It was not a consensus (decision), we've made that clear privately. We're looking for a way that Zimbabwean people can benefit from their natural resources and we can maintain the credibility of the Kimberley Process," he said.

Representatives from civil society groups walked out of the meeting before the final statement, saying the values of the organisation were being undermined.

"KP has refused to uphold any human rights standards, has not respected the role of civil society and is allowing participants who break the rules to go free," said Alfred Lahai Brownell from Green Advocates in Liberia. (Editing by Alistair Lyon) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com)

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