Sep 10, 2009
Zimbabwe says shortlists partners for diamond mine
Sep 10, 2009
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has shortlisted foreign investors to partner in mining diamonds in the Marange fields at the centre of a dispute between the government and African Consolidated Resources, a minister said late on Wednesday 9 September.
Mines Minister Obert Mpofu said the government would insist on retaining 50 percent shares in the mining project.
The southern African country adopted an empowerment law in 2008 to compel foreign-owned firms -- including mines and banks -- to give up at least 51 percent control to locals.
A new unity government set up by bitter rivals, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai raised hopes among unsettled investors, who hope the law could be reviewed. Tsvangirai has said the government would adopt friendlier laws.
Mpofu told Reuters in an interview that Zimbabwe was seeking equal control of the Marange diamond mining project in negotiations with the prospective investors.
"Some companies have been shortlisted, but because of the distractions that investors to Zimbabwe have been facing, these companies have said they would rather keep the negotiations under tight wraps," Mpofu said.
"It is a high capital project, but one that has the advantage of quick returns. We are still negotiating on the basis of a 50-50 partnership."
Mpofu declined to disclose the potential investors, saying the negotiations were at a sensitive and delicate stage.
The Marange diamond fields are at the centre of a dispute between the Zimbabwe government and the London-listed African Consolidated Resources (ACR), who held the claim until it was revoked in 2007.
A Kimberly Process review team -- mandated to monitor and regulate diamond trade globally -- visited Zimbabwe's diamond mines in July and urged an "immediate demilitarisation" of the Marange fields and measures to stop smuggling after thousands of panners descended on the site.
The World Diamond Council last month called for Zimbabwe's suspension from diamond trade if the country failed to implement the Kimberly Process recommendations or risk suspension.
Murowa mine in central Zimbabwe, majority owned by Rio Tinto, is the country's largest diamond mine, while the privately-run River Ranch mine is the second.
Mpofu said Zimbabwe was consulting the mining industry on proposed amendments to mining legislation, which would be tabled in the next parliamentary session that begins later this month.
"The desired outcome of this particular piece of legislation is to ensure that we do not compromise the indigenisation policy, while at the same time avoiding to discourage investment," Mpofu said.
"We want a win-win situation ... an outcome of thorough and extensive consultations that are underway as we speak."
Mpofu said Zimbabwe would host a two-day mining conference in Harare, starting on September16, to give existing and potential investors an opportunity to interact with the government.
"There has never been a better time than now for investors to gain access to good mineral resources in the country," he said.
By Nelson Banya
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