- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

A World Trade Organization panel this week agreed that countries could block trade in "conflict diamonds," and a U.S. lawmaker promised to introduce legislation that would allow the United States to quickly join an embargo on the gems.
The United States and dozens of other countries this year will try to stop trade in diamonds used to finance warlords and terrorists through a new system to monitor where diamonds originate.
The Bush administration "is committed to ending the use of rough diamonds by rebel groups to fund insurrections against internationally recognized governments and atrocities against civilian populations," the State Department said last month.
But the program has been on hold as participating countries waited for the WTO to issue a waiver to international trade rules. In the meantime, the United States and others have held off writing laws and implementing measures necessary to block trade in conflict diamonds.
A WTO council recommended that the international trade body skirt its own free-trade principles, recognizing "the extraordinary humanitarian nature of this issue."
All 145 members of the WTO still must vote on the waiver.
California Republican Bill Thomas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said legislators would work quickly to move legislation to stop the trafficking without disrupting the trade of untainted diamonds worldwide.
"Rebel groups feed off the profits gained through conflict diamonds and use the funds for acts of violence against governments and their people," Mr. Thomas said in a statement. "This blatant disregard for human life must be stopped."
A Senate source said a Senate version of a bill should be ready in a matter of weeks.
The House in 2001 passed conflict-diamond legislation, but a similar measure died last year in the Senate.
Conflict diamonds have been primarily associated with Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where warring groups have funded their battles with proceeds from diamond sales. Diamond trade also has been tracked to terrorist groups.
The new program, which applies only to rough diamonds, not to cut stones, requires a certificate to accompany each shipment of diamonds. Individual countries are responsible for establishing internal controls, such as licensing diamond mines, and generating the certificates.
A 2001 General Accounting Office report said the conflict-diamond-monitoring process would not be stringent enough to halt trade in conflict diamonds, though the Bush administration disagreed with that assessment.
Human rights groups such as Oxfam and Amnesty International have led campaigns against conflict diamonds.
Adotei Akwei, Africa advocacy director at Amnesty USA, said the WTO waiver is an important step in getting U.S. legislation moving forward.
"We're extremely happy it's finally been granted," he said.
Mr. Akwei said his group shares the GAO's concerns but that new legislation is part of a process toward eliminating the trade.
The trade in illicit diamonds makes up a small percentage of all trade. Industry estimates put the figure at 3 percent of a rough-cut-diamond trade that was expected to produce almost $7.9 billion in output for 2002, according to the World Diamond Council.

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