* Soldiers accused of rights abuses
* Room for more investors in Marange fields
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has started withdrawing soldiers from diamond fields in the east of the country after recommendations by the Kimberly Process and criticism over rights abuses, state media reported on Thursday.
The government deployed soldiers at the poorly secured diamond fields in Marange last year to seal off the area and clamp down on illegal mining, but rights activists say this resulted in serious rights abuses by the army.
A meeting in Namibia early this month of the Kimberly Process — which regulates the global diamond trade — voted to allow Zimbabwe to continue mining and trading in diamonds but gave it six months to improve conditions in Marange.
“As is evident at these (Marange) fields, there are no army officers or police details,” Mines Minister Obert Mpofu was quoted as saying by the state-controlled Herald newspaper during a tour of Marange by government ministers on Wednesday.
The government, through its mining arm Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, is mining diamonds in Marange in a joint venture with two little-known South African companies, Core Mining and Grandwell Holdings.
Mpofu said there was still room for more foreign investors to prospect for diamonds in Marange and across Zimbabwe.
“I want to urge all investors interested in diamond mining or other mining activities to come to Zimbabwe and work with the government,” he said.
In September Mpofu said the government would insist on a 50 percent shareholding in all diamond mining ventures, but it is
unclear what stake the government holds in the Marange venture.
Mpofu is consulting industry officials on an eagerly awaited mining bill which investors had hoped would scrap the requirement for foreign mines to sell majority shares to locals.
Murowa mine in central Zimbabwe, majority owned by Rio Tinto, is the country’s largest diamond mine, while the privately run River Ranch mine is the second biggest.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe, editing by Tim Pearce