Zimbabwe: Blood diamonds 'could be used for election violence'

Mining officials loyal to President Robert Mugabe are stashing profits from diamond fields amid fears the money could fund political violence ahead of proposed elections, it was claimed yesterday.

Global Witness, a group monitoring blood diamonds, said its investigations show unspecified amounts are being hidden in the tax-free havens of Mauritius, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands.

The mining executives include retired and serving police and military officers, the group said, raising fears the money could be used to finance violence and intimidation. "If the next election is accompanied by violence there is a real risk that any bloodshed will be funded by diamond revenue," Nick Donovan, a researcher, said.

The group said diamond money is "desperately needed" to rebuild the shattered economy and should not be used as an "off-budget cash cow" for loyalists. Mr Mugabe's party has denied hoarding diamond earnings.

The President has called for elections this year to end a fragile three-year coalition with the former opposition of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.