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By DON SHILLING



Published: Sun, November 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- There's no way to tell if the diamond on your finger was sold to fund brutal civil wars in Africa.

Or, if it helped finance the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.

Two Ohio lawmakers say that uncertainty is reason enough to boycott all diamonds until Congress can enact legislation to curtail imports of so-called "conflict diamonds." They called for such a boycott a couple of weeks ago.

Local jewelers, however, say such a boycott and legislation won't hurt the rebels or bin Laden, but it may hurt them.

"It's well-intentioned legislation, but it's poorly thought out," said Tim Smith of Smith & amp; Co. in Boardman.

Won't identify origins: The legislation being considered won't provide a way to identify the country of origin for diamonds so there still will be no way to avoid buying diamonds from certain countries, he said.

U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, a Dayton Democrat; and U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican; see it differently. They hope to restrict rebel groups' ability to sell diamonds, which would hinder their ability to wage war.

The diamond industry has been struggling with conflict diamonds for years because warring factions have fought for control of diamond mines in Sierra Leone and Angola to help finance wars. There also have been reports that bin Laden's terrorist network may be funded in part by diamond sales.

Hall said it's important for consumers to "be very careful" and hold off on buying diamonds until the government can assure them that their purchase isn't aiding the enemy.

"The industry doesn't like me saying this, but we don't know in this country today, if you buy a diamond, where that diamond came from. We have no idea," he said. "And if you don't know where that diamond came from, maybe you shouldn't buy it."

The legislation Hall and DeWine are backing would ban imports of conflict diamonds by tracking the precious stones' origin as they pass through U.S. customs.

What it requires: Specifically, the legislation requires that all diamonds imported into the United States be sealed in a secure container that is marked with a registration code indicating the country of origin.

Diamonds imported illegally would be confiscated, with proceeds being deposited into a fund for war victims.

Smith, who is on the board of directors of the Ohio Jewelers Association, said he was disappointed to learn that Hall is calling for a boycott because the association's staff has met with Hall to explain the industry's point of view.

Diamonds have no internal characteristics that allow them to be traced to a particular country, Smith said. The diamond trade is controlled by overseas organizations that pool diamond supplies so there is no way to tell in the United States which diamonds shouldn't be accepted, he said.

The sale of diamonds from mines is several steps down the supply chain from U.S. distributors and retailers, he said.

A boycott or legislation in this country would only hurt these U.S. companies, he said. Costs would increase because of the additional documentation required, he said.

Sierra Leone diamonds: Sierra Leone's mines, where war atrocities have been committed, account for less than 5 percent of the world's diamond supply, he said.

A couple of diamonds on a 50-diamond bracelet may have come from Sierra Leone, but no one can be sure, he said.

The sale of conflict diamonds may be handled outside legitimate networks and then smuggled to avoid customs, he said.

"Do you hurt a retailer who bought from a legitimate source, who also bought it from a legitimate source?" he asked.

Issue with products: American consumers face similar issues with many of the products they buy, he said. Many of the countries making consumer goods for the United States aren't democracies and commit human rights violations or use child labor, he said.

Tom Komara of Komara Jewelers in Boardman and Cornersburg said he believes he is doing all he can by buying diamonds from reputable sources that have been in business for a long time.

"We're just not buying whatever is available to buy," he said.

Had one question: He said he has had only one customer question him about conflict diamonds but didn't seem overly concerned about it.

XChris Shott of States News Service contributed to this story.




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