File: Geologists at the Gemfields Ruby mine sorting through stones for rubies in Montepuez, Mozambique. AFP/John Wessels
MAPUTO - Fourteen tonnes of gold, rubies and other precious minerals have been smuggled out of Mozambique so far this year, a senior official said.
Mozambique sits atop some of the world's richest deposits of gemstones, often extracted by small-scale miners who don't have access to formal markets.
Gold, rubies, garnets and tantalite - used to create surgical steel - have been smuggled out of northern and central Mozambique, said Fernando Maquene, a senior official in the mineral resources ministry.
"We are seeking ways to combat the expansion of criminal networks that violate our territory and our strategic resources, to ensure that these resources can generate income to develop local communities," he told Radio Mocambique.
The illegal trade in precious minerals is largely centred in northern Mozambique, where an Islamist insurgency has displaced an estimated 800,000 people.
Mining for precious stones and selling them on illicit markets, sometimes through corrupt local officials, has become a way of survival for people who fled their homes, according to a report earlier this month by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.
Cabo Delgado province, the most affected by the insurgency, is home to the Montepuez ruby mine, which currently supplies more than half of the global market for new rubies.
The mine has extracted $600-million worth of rubies since formal operations began in 2011.