- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2000

Diamonds have long conjured the most romantic notions. In many cultures, they speak for themselves, symbolizing love and a lifelong promise.

In parts of conflict-ridden Africa, however, diamonds inspire little sentimentality. Their involvement in the international diamond trade has given birth to a new gemstone: the blood diamond.

Blood diamonds come from or transit through the war-torn countries of Sierra Leone, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Brutal warlords have control of most of the diamond mines in these countries. In the Congo, more than 1.7 million people have died in the 22-month civil war over mineral resources, including diamonds. About 35 percent of them were under the age of five. Sierra Leone, meanwhile, is overrun by rebels who consolidate their dominance by beheading, disemboweling, and burning their victims.

Reps. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, and Tony Hall, Ohio Democrat, have therefore co-sponsored a bill to keep blood diamonds out of the United States. "America doesn't want to send troops" to war-torn African countries, said Mr. Wolf in a telephone interview. "So this is the least we could do," he added. The legislation was approved by the Treasury, Postal Service and General Government subcommittee last week. Since the United States is the largest consumer of diamonds in the world, it should take a lead role in discriminating against the gems that fuel civil wars.

The U.N. Security Council agreed earlier this month to impose an 18-month embargo on diamonds from Sierra Leone. The diamond industry is also taking measures to prevent the type of consumer backlash which has devastated fur retailers. Leaders of the $6 billion a year industry said Wednesday they will launch a new system of guarantees on the source of diamonds.

But the White House has failed to endorse legislation to keep blood diamonds out of the United States. The administration's silence on this issue is unconscionable, especially since the "peace accord" it helped broker in Sierra Leone last year has ultimately helped murderous rebels reclaim control of the country. If the White House fails to immediately shore up the legislation, blood diamonds will symbolize Mr. Clinton's stained legacy in Africa.

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