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Zimbabwe diamond miners killed, hunted by cops from choppers

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 10, 2009 in Politics
Zimbabwe's diamond fields around Chiadzwa, about 20 miles north-west of the town of Mutare in eastern Manicaland province right at the Mozambiquean border, are being turned into a war-zone by the Zimbabwean government.
Local residents describe it as a 'massacre' in which police and defence force personnel swoop down on thousands of illegal diamond miners, with helicopters - gunning them down, teargassing them inside their tunnels and having them killed with ferocious dog packs.
The governor of Zimbabwe's central bank, Gideon Gono, has estimated there are more than 500 syndicates handling more than $1bn a month in illegally dug diamonds. And he's ordered a crackdown.
Claims are that Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, and vice-president Joyce Mujuru, are actually behind this crackdown, with the women claiming they own the diamond fields. Grace Mugabe certainly needs the money: she has already blown an estimated £2,1 million fortune feeding her insatiable love for shopping. She has an extraordinarily lavish collection of Gucci bags. According to The Sun, Britain's biggest circulating newspaper with over 3 million readers daily, her biggest extravagance was blowing a cool £75,000 in just two hours in Paris last year. And when she went on a shopping trip in Rome, her security guards roughed up photographers for trying to record her purchases.
Over the past two years, thousands of illegal diggers have moved into the Mutare diamond-diggings - estimates run between 10,000 and 30,000 including foreigners from across southern Africa. They dig out tiny diamonds worth no more than a couple of hundred US dollars -- but that's still several months' pay for many Zimbabweans as their country collapses under the weight of hyperinflation.
Many of these miners are professional people: teachers and civil servants, who have abandoned jobs that do not pay enough to feed their families. Others are students who have dropped out of university in the hope of making a quick fortune and subsistence farmers whose land has not produced a crop in years. And some have got very rich.
Mutare, on the border with Mozambique, has taken on the air of a frontier town filled with brash young men touting US dollars and an air of menace. The hotels are filled with miners and dealers. Luxury cars prowl the streets. Shops have filled with imported goods sold for American dollars and South African rands.
Spend any amount of time in a hotel bar and periodically someone will approach with diamonds for sale.
These are swiftly smuggled out of the country.
Now Zimbabwe's government is apparently trying to take control. Gono admits that the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation is unequipped to conduct diamond mining at the Chiadzwa diamond mine.
The company has only conducted mechanized diamond panning since the government confiscated the site from the African Consolidated Resources diamond exploration company in December 2006. Revenues from the diamond mine have amounted to only $15 million since that time, Gono said.
But over the past three weeks, he said, thousands of illegal diamond miners have been arrested . He didn't tell the news media that they are also being killed, but independent journalists in Hurare say the diamond fields are being turned into a killing zone.
The stakes are high: Gono estimates that the dealers in Mutare are making $50 million a month on the diamonds. He said: The military and police have moved in 'to try to drive the illegal diggers out'.
Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace, and the vice-president Joyce Mujuru, are claiming these land-sites are theirs, and both areas now carry their names.
Legal and opposition political sources in Mutare say the prime mover behind these military assaults against thousands of illegal diamond miners is the Zimbabwean air force chief, Perence Shiri.
He is the former commander of the notorious Fifth Brigade which massacred about 20,000 people in Matabeleland in the mid-80s. Shiri also oversaw the bloody military campaign of beatings and killings in Manicaland earlier this year that terrorised voters into supporting Robert Mugabe in June's presidential election, activists say.
He sent the helicopter gunships into the diamond fields three weeks ago. The police meanwhile had also let lose ferocious dog packs -- killing some miners and maiming others. One police tactic is to use teargas to drive them out of the tunnels, causing stampedes in which some have been crushed.
The miners, terrified of giving their names to journalists, say that in some cases the police shoot down the men, blinded by teargas, as they flee. One described how there is shooting nearly every day and particularly at night.
"There were three of us mining together. In the night a policeman came and shot my friend, twice in the chest. We ran away but came back. He was still alive. We carried him to a hospital but he died," he said.
A pile of 50 bodies in Chiadzwa
A policewoman working in Chiadzwa said she saw a pile of 50 bodies after one helicopter attack.
"There were a lot of bodies. They were piled up. I don't know what happened to them. Some of the dead are just buried secretly," she said.
"Miners are killed every day. The orders to the police are to shoot them if they find them digging but many of the police do not want to carry out those orders. These are ordinary people like us."
The situation has got so bad that some miners are now arming themselves and fighting back.
The state-run press has reported that several police officers have been killed in shoot-outs.
The foreign news media are also barred enmasse so that they cannot report on the ongoing massacre. see
More about Chiadzwa, Mutare, Diamonds, Grace mugabe, Illegal miners
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