An international meeting to discuss rules curbing the sale of conflict diamonds has started with an appeal to the United States to lift sanctions on Zimbabwean mines.

Fin24 reports that representatives of 81 countries taking part in the Kimberley Process meeting heard a plea from the South African chairperson that Washington follow the European Union's lead and allow Zimbabwe's return to fully fledged international trade.

Welile Nhlapo, who currently chairs the rotating presidency of the diamond watchdog, congratulated the European Union on “its decision to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe”, after the disputed July 31 election won by President Robert Mugabe.

“We hope that those who continue to maintain such sanctions will also be able to lift them, because the lifting of these sanctions would assist Zimbabwe to bring stability and prosperity once again,” he said at the start of the regulator's four-day talks here.

In September, the EU lifted restrictions against the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, the firm that controls Marange, one of the world's largest diamond fields.

Zimbabwe's Mines Minister Walter Chidakwa threw his weight behind the recommendations of the UN-backed Kimberly Process.

“Since the EU has removed sanctions on our diamonds, we are calling on the United States to remove sanctions so that we can be able to do as much business as possible,’ Chidakwa told AFP.

The move by the EU allows the country to go back to trading at Antwerp, one of the world's largest diamond centres, in Belgium. “I hope that in December we will be able to make a full comeback into Antwerp," Chidakwa said on the sidelines of the annual assembly.

The Zimbabwe firm had been blacklisted in 2004 for allegedly channelling funds to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Diamond-producing countries, industry buyers and rights activists are meeting in South Africa to take stock of the work of the regulator amid calls for reforms in the body created 10 years ago to prevent so-called “blood diamonds” from filtering into the market.

Source: Fin24. For more information, click here.

Picture: Artisanal miners in the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe in 2006,  the year the fields were discovered.