MARANGE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - A Chinese mining group has denied violating human rights at Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields where unlicensed small-scale miners have clashed with security forces in the past.
The Anjin group told Reuters on a rare visit that it planned to boost output at the high-security mining area, where even giant Baobab trees sport surveillance cameras.
Marange, 400 km (240 miles) east of Harare, has generated controversy since 20,000 small-scale miners invaded the area in 2008 and were forcibly removed by soldiers and police.
Human rights groups say up to 200 people were killed during the process, charges denied by Harare.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in August that police and private security employed by some mine owners were shooting, beating and using attack dogs against unlicensed miners.
“There are no human rights issues here at Anjin,” Munyaradzi Machacha, a director at Anjin, told journalists during the tour.
Four companies operate the mines.
Two of them had already said reports of abuses were false: Diamond Mining Company of Zimbabwe — a new joint venture between the government and Pure Diamond of Dubai — and Mbada Diamonds, another joint venture between the state and a Zimbabwean investor said to be close to President Robert Mugabe.
HRW mentioned only Mbada by name but rights bodies have also accused Zimbabwean state security agencies working with Anjin of abuses.
Anjin is a joint venture between the government’s Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and China’s state-owned Anhui Foreign and Economic Construction Company and is run mainly by Chinese nationals.
Security is tight at all the fields, with electric and alarmed security fences, flood lights and close-circuit television to stop illegal miners from sneaking in.
At least five police check points guard the highway to Marange, there are mandatory searches and armed guards with dogs patrol the area.
Rules forbid people from picking anything from the ground around the mining area.
Marange is a hot and arid place where temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius and it is home to Baobab trees as old as 200 years.
The mining firms have transplanted the trees to facilitate mining and Anjin has put spy cameras on some of them. The firm says at least five people are caught each week trying to sneak into the concession area looking for diamonds.
The Marange fields span 71,000 hectares and contain large deposits of alluvial and conglomerate diamonds - found in sedimentary rocks - but companies are only mining on some 40,000 hectares.
The mining area hums with the sound of trucks and front loaders digging the earth and sending ore to processing plants, which were imported from neighbouring South Africa.
Anjin’s mine reflects the nationality of its owners with high gates decorated with guardian lions and dragons.
Some 210 Chinese are among the 1,700 workers employed by the company.
Three of the mining firms have been certified to export rough diamonds by global regulator Kimberley Process, a scheme that imposes requirements on member states to ensure gems were not obtained as spoils of conflict.
Earlier this month campaign group Global Witness pulled out of the Process, saying it was unwilling “to stop diamonds fuelling corruption and violence in Zimbabwe”.
Anjin chief engineer Hu Shijie told Reuters he expected production to rise next year, from one million carats mined in the first half year of production from October 2010.
“We are looking at producing between 7 to 10 million carats,” he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday through an interpreter when asked about the production target for 2012.
“We want to put in a lot of investment to develop the economy of this country.”
Machacha told reporters that the mining firm had stockpiled 3 million carats of rough diamonds and was now selling them after the Kimberley Process allowed it to start exports last month.
He said Anjin had so far invested $310 million since it started operations in August last year.
Hu said the mining firm will commission two new diamond processing plants on Thursday, bringing the total to seven.