Kimberley Process: Zimbabwe diamond exports approved
An international ban on Zimbabwe selling diamonds from several of its rich eastern Marange mines has been lifted by the industry's watchdog.
The World Diamond Council (WDC) said it welcomed the decision, reached in talks involving the US, European Union (EU) and African countries.
The EU and US had blocked previous attempts to lift the ban.
It was imposed in 2009 following allegations that Zimbabwean military officers had a stake in the industry.
Europe's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU supported the lifting of the ban because of "a renewed commitment by Zimbabwe to address outstanding areas of noncompliance", the Reuters news agency reports.
The agreement was reached at a meeting in the Democratic Republic of Congo of the Kimberley Process, a watchdog body which certifies international trade in diamonds to ensure they are not used to fuel conflicts.
In a statement, the WDC said the breakthrough paved the way for the immediate export of rough diamonds from the mining operations of two companies, Marange Resources and Mbada.
The Zimbabwe government wholly owns Marange Resources and has a 50% stake in Mbada, which it co-owns with South African investors, Reuters reports.
Other companies such as Anjin Zimbabwe, a 50-50 joint venture between the Zimbabwean and Chinese governments, will begin to export after a Kimberley Process verification team visits their operations in the next two weeks, it reports.
WDC President Eli Izhakoff described the deal as a milestone.
"[It] demonstrates categorically that the Kimberley Process provides the framework through which the integrity of the rough diamond chain of distribution can be protected, while at the same time enabling producing countries [to] gain benefit from their natural resources," he said.
Mr Izhakoff said the EU had played a key role in ending the deadlock.
"Credit also is due to Zimbabwe, the African nations led by South Africa, the US, and a host of individuals and delegates who put in long hours in negotiating the arrangement," he said.
In June, the DR Congo government - after hosting a meeting of the Kimberley Process group - issued a statement, saying consensus had been reached on lifting the ban.
However, this was denied at the time by the EU and US.
Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper said the lifting of the ban heralded a "decisive victory in the struggle against Western economic hegemony".
Zimbabwe stands to earn more than $3bn (£1.8bn) a year from the three Marange mines, it reports.
The ban was imposed in 2009, following allegations that some mines in Marange are controlled by Zimbabwe's military, who channel funds to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.
Human rights groups also claimed that people were forced to work on the mines and some of them were badly assaulted.
The authorities in Zimbabwe denied the allegations.
Zimbabwe is currently governed by a coalition made up of Zanu-PF and its main rival, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The coalition was formed in 2009, following elections marred by violence.
Analysts say it has achieved stability in Zimbabwe, but tensions are rising again ahead of elections expected next year.