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Zimbabwe holds secret diamond auction

HARARE, Sep 14 – Zimbabwe held a secret auction of diamonds from its Marange fields, where the army has been accused of forced labour and torture, an official said Tuesday.

"Yes, the sales were carried out this weekend," Secretary for Mines Thankful Musukutwa told AFP, without giving further details.

The auction on Saturday and Sunday was supervised by Abbey Chikane, the monitor from the international Kimberley Process watchdog, another official said on condition of anonymity.

Kimberley Process is charged with preventing the sale of "blood diamonds" used to fuel armed conflicts, but in November the regulator banned sale of the gems from Marange after its investigators found soldiers had beaten nearby residents and forced them to mine the stones.

The weekend sale was the second and last auction authorised by Kimberley until its investigators certify that the military has ended rights abuses in the fields near the Mozambican border.

"We will not be releasing the quantity or amount that was generated because these were private sales by private companies," Musukutwa said.

"No other country in the world releases their sales figures or quantities. When it comes to the issues of diamonds we must be careful as a country because of the sensitivity of the issues associated with them."

Zimbabwe says the military no longer runs the fields and has contracted operations at Marange to two little-known South African firms, Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Miners. A third company linked to a Chinese firm has also been allowed to operate there.

The first Kimberley-backed sale generated about 30 million US dollars, according to government figures.

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Canadile miners, has begun constructing a multi-million dollar cutting and polishing centre in the country.

Representatives from the companies operating from Marange refused to comment.

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