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Mugabe urges army to 'jealously guard' Zimbabwe's resources

Niger council proposes amnesty for junta
Niamey (AFP) Aug 10, 2010 - Niger's consultative council has proposed to include an amnesty for the country's ruling junta in a new constitution it is reviewing, the council's president said Tuesday. "There was a majority opinion among social and political forces of all sorts that an amnesty should be granted to the authors of the coup d'etat of February 18, 2010," in which president Mamadou Tandja was overthrown, Marou Amadou said on state radio. "The new national assembly that will be installed will vote on a law relating to the amnesty during its first session," he added. A judicial source told AFP that the amnesty would in future protect members of General Salou Djibo's Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy -- the junta -- from any kind of legal proceedings for ousting Tandja, who had overstayed his mandate by measures to grant himself a fresh term.

"Some supporters of the fallen president could return to power and decide to settle scores with members of the junta," said the judicial source, who asked not to be named. The consultative council, representing the civic forces of the deeply poor west African country, has since July 29 been studying a draft project for a constitution drawn up by a committee for basic law. Once the council has made its amendments to the constitution, the text is to be passed on to the government and the junta, which will submit the final version to a referendum on October 31. Under the junta's plans for a transition, the constitutional referendum will be followed by a series of elections, notably including a presidential poll due on January 3, 2011. The military plans to hand power back to an elected civilian regime in March next year.
by Staff Writers
Harare (AFP) Aug 10, 2010
President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday urged his army to protect Zimbabwe's natural resources against "imperialists", as investigators sought to confirm that soldiers had ceased blood diamond trade.

"My message to you today is for you to remain loyal to your country and jealously guard its independence, sovereignty and natural resources," Mugabe said in an address to troops to mark Defence Forces Day.

"Remain wary of renewed subtle imperialistic efforts to dispossess us of the control of our natural resources," the veteran leader said in an apparent warning to Western countries.

Zimbabwe's military is at the centre of controversy over diamonds from the eastern Marange fields, where an international watchdog last year said soldiers had used beatings, forced labour and other abuses against civilians to gain control of the region's diamond trade.

The global diamond trade watchdog Kimberley Process in January blocked a diamond sale in Zimbabwe, saying the country had not yet complied with human rights standards.

Kimberley monitor Abbey Chikane said last month that Zimbabwe had met minimum standards, but his report failed to convince all the members of the scheme, which has allowed the country to make only two sales of existing diamond stocks.

Zimbabwe says it has handed operations at Marange to two South African firms, Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Miners.

But Human Rights Watch in June cited new reports that soldiers in Marange were engaging in forced labour, torture, beatings and harassment.

Last year the US-based group said more than 200 people were killed after the military seized the fields in late 2008.

A Kimberley team visited the Marange fields on Tuesday to confirm whether abuses have ceased on the eve of the first authorised sale of diamond stocks in Harare, secretary for mines Thankful Musukutwa told AFP.

"Some of the members will monitor the auctions on Wednesday, while the other members of the team will remain in Marange and continue their review on the operations by the companies there," he said.

Chikane was in Harare meeting with government officials ahead of the auction Wednesday, Musukutwa said. He will certify and examine all diamonds produced by the two companies.

International auditors Ernest and Young will oversee the sale as part of Zimbabwe's agreement with the Kimberley Process.

Mugabe had been expected to open the sale, but he left Harare on Tuesday for a visit to China to attend the World Expo in Shanghai, according to state television.

But political analyst Bornwell Chakaodza said Mugabe's latest remarks cast doubt on his commitment to removing the military from the diamond fields.

"The defence forces should be above politics. They have no business in safeguarding natural resources," he told AFP.

"Defence forces are there to defend the country in the event of an attack, but where there are no such attacks they belong to the barracks and not anywhere else."

Zimbabwe's case posed Kimberley's toughest challenge in years. Harare argued that the scheme was created to prevent diamonds from financing rebel movement against legitimate governments, which is not the case in Marange.

But others argued that the scheme could not certify diamonds produced by civilians, including children, forced into labour by the military.

The Marange fields cover some 66,000 hectares (163,000 acres), but the gems were only discovered there in 2006, making them one of the few new sources of income for Zimbabwe.

Mining is the country's main foreign currency earner.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has told parliament that the Treasury could not account for any of the 30 million dollars in Marange diamonds sold last year before the Kimberley ban took effect.

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