Zimbabwe holds 16,000 over miningadmin
The three-week-long campaign targeted settlements around the mining fields and seized large quantities of gold and diamonds, state media said.
During the raids, police officers burnt temporary homes used by panners.
Tens of thousands have turned to mining following the collapse of commercial agriculture, correspondents say.
People dig or pan for gold or diamonds, risking their lives in shallow mines which frequently collapse, says the BBC’s Tony Andoh-Korsah.
A Zimbabwean journalist told the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme poor people felt they had little choice if they were to survive.
“The unemployment rate is above 80%. Also the manufacturing sector has shrunk by 60%. Zimbabwe is in its worst economic recession so everybody will do anything to survive,” Brian Hungwe said.
“You can imagine – you are living along a river bed and there are lots of minerals there.
“It’s very difficult to stop people from indulging in such activities given the high unemployment rate. Despite the arrest of 16,000 people I don’t believe this will stop the illegal operations.”
Critics say President Robert Mugabe has ruined what was one of Africa’s most developed economies.
As well as chronic unemployment, Zimbabwe has the world’s lowest life expectancy and highest inflation rate.
Mr Mugabe says he is the victim of a Western plot to bring him down because of opposition to his seizure of white-owned land.
During the raids, officers recovered more than 500,000kg (79,000 stone) of gold and gold ore, and nearly 5,000 diamonds.
Most of the arrests and recoveries were made near border posts and included dealers from neighbouring Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.
The suspects were trying to smuggle the minerals to neighbouring countries, reports the government newspaper The Herald.
Police say the suspects were all released after paying or promising to pay admission of guilt fines.
Police launched the campaign codenamed Chikorokoza Chapera (which means The End of Illegal Gold Dealings) following concerns over rampant smuggling of precious stones and environmental degradation in mining areas.
The government accuses powerful politicians and businessmen of buying minerals from panners and smuggling them outside the country.
“A few greedy fat cats have monopolised the industry and engaged every other person in the villages, farms and elsewhere to recklessly pan for gold and other precious minerals,” Augustine Chihuri, the country’s Police Commissioner, was quoted as saying recently by the Herald.
“We are also worried about the level of siltation in our dams and land degradation,” he said referring to extensive destruction of the environmental by the panners.
In his state of the nation address last week, Mr Mugabe said Zimbabwe was witnessing rampant destruction of forests and land through uncontrolled fires and illegal panning.