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14 may 2012

The Kimberly Process (KP) chairperson, Gillian Milovanovic of the United States, recently surprised neutrals when she urged Indian diamond dealers to shun Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds.

Her argument was that the gems were still under sanctions for undermining democracy in the southern African country.

 "I consider Zimbabwe diamonds as products under sanction," Milovanovic was quoted as saying during a two-day visit to India’s Surat region where the majority of the world's diamonds are cut and polished.

About 30 percent of the diamond pieces currently manufactured in Surat were also Zimbabwean stones and 11 million carats of Marange diamonds were expected to flood the Indian market this year.

Milovanovic also fell short of mentioning Marange diamonds by name when she said in a live webchat that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should ensure that “blood” diamonds do not find their way into the country or become a transit nation.

"Transit countries have to meet the same criteria as everyone else … to ensure the integrity of the rough-diamond supply chain," she said.

It was public knowledge that Dubai interrupted the shipment of diamonds from Marange worth $160 million in November 2010.

However, the parcel was released last July after a KP agreement to partially lift the trade embargo that was in place on Marange gems then.

What was shocking about Milovanovic’s comments was that the body that she leads had passed a resolution last year - during a plenary session in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Kinshasa - to allow Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources to sell their gems freely without restrictions.

The diamond trade watchdog also agreed then that exports may take place from other mining operations in the Marange diamond fields, following verification of their compliance according to its minimum requirements by the monitoring team.

The monitoring team later got full access to the mining sites and certified gems mined by Anjin and Diamond Corporation.

Although Milovanovic was said to have claimed that the Indian media misquoted her, one would have expected the new KP chairperson to respect the resolutions made by an organisation she leads.

The statements she made on Zimbabwe whether veiled or not, appeared to raise fears that the U.S would use the KP chairmanship to further isolate Marange diamonds.

Although the United States did not vote at the KP Plenary in Kinshasa last year, which allowed the ban on exports of Marange diamonds to be lifted, it immediately slapped Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources with a trade embargo, sparking condemnation as the move was seen as violating the KP resolution.

The U.S. say Marange diamonds revenue was being used to finance the oppressive political machine of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party and the military.

Washington recently intercepted a Belgian firm’s $20 million that was meant to buy stones from Anjin Investment as it was mining diamonds in Marange in partnership with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), which had been under US sanctions since 2001.

Mugabe said the fact that Zimbabwe was using US dollars made it easy for the administration in Washington to frustrate diamond sales as all transactions were cleared in the US.

“It is frozen and in some cases they (buyers) have been threatened. ‘If you buy those diamonds we will impose sanctions on you’,” he said recently.

The U.S ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray must have felt embarrassed when reports claimed that Milovanovic had told India to shun Marange diamonds and made the same veiled threat to UAE.

Ray had said last January when the U.S took over the chairmanship of KP that his country would not abuse its new role to settle old scores with Zimbabwe.

“I know that there is a bit of anxiety for Zimbabwe in that the US has just assumed the chair of the Kimberly Process,” Ray said then.

“In our capacity, it’s our intention to play a strong role of facilitation and we have no desire or intention to impose our decisions on anyone.”

It was no secret that the U.S had been a strong critic of Marange diamonds within KP and for the world heavy weight to say that it would be impartial when handling the Zimbabwean issue was somewhat difficult to embrace.

There is an old axiom that says you cannot bite the hand that feeds you. This seems to resonate well with the situation at hand, when one considers that Milavanovic, a former U.S. ambassador was appointed by the same administration that has slapped sanctions on diamond firms mining in Marange.

KP, it seems, turn to take a path that the chairing country would have created.

Last year, when DRC was the chair, we saw several attempts to allow Marange diamonds trade again, only to get statements from other members denying such claims.

DRC, and indeed other so-called third world countries, managed to push for exports to resume before it handed over the chairmanship to Washington.

However, whatever gains they made appears to be subtly ignored by the new KP chair, who will obviously get support from Non Governmental Organisations and countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

One can only hope that the KP chair was misquoted by the media and the upcoming intersession meeting to be convened in the US would give us a hint on her real position on Marange as well as the path the diamond trade watchdog would be taking under this new but short-lived leadership.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished