The operation to rid Chiadzwa of illicit diamond deals intensified at the weekend, with armed soldiers raiding business centres in areas surrounding Chiadzwa and Charasika diamond fields.
Villagers in Chiadzwa and its environs said after successfully flushing out illegal miners from the diamond fields, the soldiers were pursuing them in areas outside the fields.
The operation is aimed at creating a semblance of order at the diamond fields at a time the Kimberley Process (KP) team is already in the country.
Abbey Chikane, the KP monitor for Zimbabwe, arrived in Harare on Sunday and is expected to issue the long-awaited certificate for the sale of diamonds from the controversial fields during his visit.
A delegation of ministers from the Association of Diamond Producing Countries is also in Zimbabwe on a four-day fact-finding mission.
On Saturday soldiers rounded up several people they found loitering at business centres in Chakohwa, Hot Springs and Nyanyadzi.
A NewsDay crew witnessed soldiers rounding up about 20 youths at a business centre in Hot Springs. The youths were believed to be illegal miners.
Illegal miners and daring dealers loiter on the fringes of Chiadzwa and Charasika, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the fields.
“The soldiers are moving around business centres and rounding up anyone they suspect to be an illegal miner or dealer,” said Naison Nyauchi from Nemaramba Village.
“What you have seen is a daily occurrence here nowadays. The soldiers are just rounding up anyone they suspect to be either an illegal miner or dealer,” Nyauchi said.
Human rights campaigners said although the latest crackdown was intensive, it was not as brutal as previous operations, in which numerous lives were reportedly lost.
“I think by now all illegal miners have been removed from the fields. It has been very effective. The soldiers are not opening fire like we heard during previous operations,” said a human rights campaigner, who declined to be named.
Villagers said it was relatively easier for the soldiers to remove the illegal miners from the fields largely because they were part of well-knit syndicates.
“The soldiers work with these illegal miners every day so they know each other and that makes it easy for them to remove them,” said Givemore Maradza of Hot Springs.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena last week denied there was an ongoing special operation at Chiadzwa.
“I am not aware of the increase in police and soldiers but we have always had their presence there,” Bvudzijena said. “We have always had their presence with or without the coming of Chikane.”
Zimbabwe is desperate to sell about six million carats of diamonds which the government says it has stockpiled over the months.
The country urgently needs the money generated from diamond sales to resuscitate the ailing economy.