Large numbers of foreigners are being accused of looting precious stones from Nhampassa in the central Mozambican province of Manica, Tuesday’s issue of the Maputo daily Noticias reported.
Traffickers from Nigeria, Guinea, Mali, Tanzania, Pakistan and other countries have been attracted to the area by the presence of rubelites, a much sought after deep red variety of tourmaline.
Mozambicans who dig up the stones have no idea how much they are worth and sell them to the traffickers at ridiculously low prices. The stones are then smuggled over the border.
The newspaper said because of the disorder reported in the district, due to the rush to exploit the rubelite deposit, the Manica provincial government set up a commission made up of members of the Police Criminal Investigations Department, the Traffic Police, the Border Guard, Immigration, Customs and the Provincial Directorate of Mineral Resources to restore order.
The commission has seized 10 kilos of green tourmaline and rubelite. According to Celestino Sousa, a gram sells for 180 US dollars in the United States.
The paper quoted sources in Catandica, the nearest town to Nhampassa, as saying the foreign miners were purchasing the stones from the Mozambican miners at just 1,500 meticais (60 dollars) a kilo.
No arrests have been reported, but the police confirmed that illegal foreigners from several African and Asian countries can be seen in Catandica, and the precious stones business involves large amounts of money.
The artisanal miners risk their lives as they dig for the stones. At least one person died and another was injured when a tree collapsed on top of a pit that miners were digging to extract the minerals.