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Freelance journalist arrested for visiting Chiadzwa diamond fields

By Tichaona Sibanda
12 October 2009

The Chiadzwa diamond fields in Marange, Manicaland province are still off-limits for journalists working in the country.

This was demonstrated by Friday’s incident where freelance journalist Annie Mtalume was arrested on allegations of entering the ‘ protected’ area without a pass. She was detained overnight in Chiadzwa and was only transferred to Mutare on Saturday.

Nyasha Nyakunu, senior programmes officer for MISA Zimbabwe, told us Mtalume was a freelance journalist accredited by the now defunct statutory Media and Information Commission (MIC). Mtalume appeared in a Mutare court on Monday and was charged with violating the Protected Areas Act. She was granted $30 bail and remanded out of custody to 26th October by a Mutare magistrate.

There is speculation Mtalume was in the area investigating ongoing human rights abuses by the country’s armed forces that have ring-fenced the fields. Residents in Mutare are reporting ongoing cases of fortune seekers recounting harrowing experiences in their attempts to gain access to the diamond fields in search of instant riches. The diamond fields first came to the world’s attention after government ordered a clampdown on illegal miners and mass violence and killings took place under the army.

Unconfirmed reports say there are still cases of gross human right abuses by the security forces that are unleashing vicious dogs on suspected illegal dealers and outright shooting of dealers found roaming the area.

The Chiadzwa diamond fields, also known as the Marange fields, were seized from African Consolidated Resources Plc and handed to the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation three years ago.

The smuggling of diamonds has continued unabated, long after the government introduced tight security measures around the diamond fields. Not only have the law enforcement agents failed to stamp their authority, there is growing evidence that in many instances they have joined the swelling ranks of the illegal panners and middle-men.

An MDC MP in Mutare told us there is mounting evidence that police and army operations are targeting only small-time panners and dealers, while well-known and well-connected so-called diamond barons operate with total impunity. It is openly believed that top politicians are involved in this lucrative diamond trade.

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