(photo credit: )
Zimbabwe has promised to withdraw its soldiers from diamond fields in the East, an official newspaper reported Sunday, one week after a rights group alleged the military was committing killings and abuses in the area.
The move appeared to be an attempt to diffuse criticism over the military's takeover of the Marange diamond fields and ensure that Zimbabwe's precious stones won't be tainted with the "blood diamond" label by activists, which would reduce their value.
The Ministry of Mines denied last month's report by Human Rights Watch that said troops had killed more than 200 people at the Marange diamond fields while forcing children to search for diamonds and beating villagers who got in the way.
Instead, Zimbabwe's coalition government said the military was there to secure the area, about 250 kilometers east of Harare, where mining is managed by the state's Mining Development Corp.
The 140,000-acre (560,000-dunam) Marange diamond fields were discovered in 2006 - at the height of Zimbabwe's political, economic and humanitarian crisis. Villagers rushed to the area and began finding diamonds close to the surface.
The army took over the Marange diamond fields in late October 2008. Before that, the police were in control and Human Rights Watch said there were less abuses then.
Officials of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme - the world's diamond control body - recently visited the fields following allegations that security chiefs and loyalists of President Robert Mugabe were either perpetrating or tolerating rights abuses and illegal diamond exports.