Zimbabwe Sells Part of $1.7 Billion Stockpile of Diamonds

Zimbabwe began selling part of a $1.7 billion stockpile of diamonds extracted from a deposit where Human Rights Watch said security forces killed 200 illegal miners in 2008.

The diamonds on sale are worth "about" $72 million, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said in a phone interview from the capital, Harare.

Today’s sale of 900,000 carats from the Marange fields in the east of the country comes after the Kimberley Process approved the auction of a portion of the 4.5 million carats of gems in stock. The Kimberley Process was formed in 2002 by governments and the diamond industry to halt the sale of so- called blood diamonds, or gems used to finance conflict, according to Bloomberg.

Investigators for the world's diamond control body said last year that the gems were mined at the Marange diamond fields by virtual slaves who had been told to dig or die, and were smuggled out by soldiers who raped and beat civilians. Yet the Kimberley Process, the diamond body, said those gems didn't qualify as "blood diamonds."

Human Rights Watch says children as young as 10 were forced to work up to 11 hours a day in the Marange diamond fields with no pay or reward. The organization said it had reason to believe that at least 300 children were still working there as of February 2009.

Zimbabwe 's mines ministry accuses human rights groups of "peddling falsehoods" over rights violations, The Associated Press reports.

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