Zimbabwe diamond firm robbed

Harare - Eight men armed with AK47 rifles stormed the Zimbabwe offices of a British-based diamond company after midnight Tuesday, in an incident police have described as a robbery.

A police spokesman on Wednesday confirmed the raid on the Zimbabwe headquarters of London-based African Consolidated Resources, and said investigations were in progress.

The company is locked in litigation with President Robert Mugabe’s government over the claim for the rich Chiadzwa diamond field in eastern Zimbabwe, deemed by some experts as the most significant find of the gems in the past century.

ACR officials would not comment on the raid, but mining industry sources said the intruders assaulted the company’s four security guards at the heavily-protected building in central Harare, and made off with computers and a new pick-up truck.

The vehicle was discovered shortly afterwards at a nearby hotel, abandoned, but with the keys still in the ignition.

The government seized the claim from ACR in 2006, and let thousands of illegal diggers and panners overrun it until two years later, when soldiers and police cracked down, allegedly killing scores of people and severely assaulting and torturing hundreds more.

The violence drew sharp criticism from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the international body founded to stop the trade in ‘blood diamonds’ in Africa, and demanded that the military be withdrawn and transparency and order be established at Chiadzwa.

Controversy has continued, however, as the government allowed two South African companies to form joint ventures with the bankrupt state-owned mining company to exploit the alluvial diamond field.

An ongoing parliamentary inquiry this week accused the government of ‘irregular’ dealings with the two companies.

The raid came as ACR was about to apply for an eviction order against the two companies, after a high court judge in September ruled that the state seizure of the field was illegal, and that ACR was the legal owner of the claim.

Political analysts say that the Chiadzwa diamonds are of crucial importance to the turnaround of the cash-strapped country, which is under a power-sharing government formed by Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Mining experts believe the field could earn the government up to 1 billion dollars a year in revenues from the field.

But diplomats and members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change have expressed fears that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party are planning to seize the claim, after the collapse of the economy in 2008 left them without financial support.

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