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Watchdog debates Zimbabwe mine abuses

JERUSALEM, Nov 1 – Members of the Kimberley Process diamond watchdog began talks in Jerusalem on Monday over whether to allow Zimbabwe to resume exports of the gemstone from its controversial Marange fields.

The organisation, which is meant to ensure diamonds are "conflict free," suspended its certification of the Marange fields last year, over claims of forced labour and torture at the gem mines.

But it agreed in July to allow Zimbabwe to export two shipments of diamonds if Kimberley Process monitors were given access to the Marange fields.

"The Zimbabwe issue is still not resolved, hopefully they will reach a decision this time," said Sharon Gefen, spokeswoman for the Israeli Diamond Industry, which is hosting the meeting in Jerusalem.

"Over the last month, they sent one new fact finding mission to see if everything was in accordance with the Kimberley Process, and they will present their findings this week," she told AFP.

Ahead of the meeting, Human Rights Watch called on the organisation to ban all diamond exports from Zimbabwe "until the government makes clear progress in ending abuses and smuggling."

The New York-based rights group said research carried out between July and September showed large parts of the Marange fields remained under the control of Zimbabwe\’s military, which was smuggling diamonds and abusing local workers.

"The government made a lot of promises, but soldiers still control most diamond fields and are involved in illicit mining and smuggling," HRW Africa director Rona Peligal said in a statement.

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"Zimbabwe should mine its diamonds without relying on an abusive military that preys on the local population."

The meeting, which brings together some 300 delegates from 75 countries is expected to announce a decision on Thursday afternoon.

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