HARARE – Police divers in Zimbabwe's best-known diamond fields are searching for more victims of an accident that left at least three illegal panners dead on Wednesday, the state Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Up to 15 are feared to have been crushed to death by falling rock in the Chiadzwa diamond fields of eastern Zimbabwe although three deaths only have been confirmed so far, ZBC announced in its main evening news bulletin.
At least one panner has been seriously injured.
"It is feared that the number could rise to 15 and police have since widened their search by incorporating the sub-aqua units to search for others suspected to have drowned," ZBC said.
Panners have flocked to the Chiadzwa fields (also known as Marange) in the last few days following President Robert Mugabe's government's shock announcement last week that mining firms in the area had to immediately cease activities.
One of the evicted companies, Diamond Mining Corporation (DMC) complained that since the order, panners and looters had invaded their concession. Wednesday's accident happened on the DMC concession, according to ZBC.
Government ministers say the affected firms were operating without licenses. It is also believed that they did not want to merge to form a single entity, as ordered by the state. Zimbabwe's mining minister Walter Chidakwa denied reports of looting in Wednesday's official Herald newspaper.
"There is no looting and systems are not collapsing in Chiadzwa. There are people who are disappointed by the minister's move and naturally they will find ways of denigrating the process," he was quoted as saying.
The private Newsday reported on Monday that the High Court had provisionally ordered police in Chiadzwa to allow officials from one of the companies, Mbada Diamonds to secure its assets in the fields.