WASHINGTON House votes to ban conflict diamonds

The move should clear the way for passage in the Senate, said a spokeswoman for Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine.
WASHINGTON -- In a step Rep. Tony Hall said would go a long way toward curbing violence in war-torn African countries -- and terrorist activity worldwide -- the House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday to block imports of so-called "conflict diamonds."
Rebels and terrorists are said to sell the smuggled gems to bolster their war chests.
Terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization has reportedly reaped millions of dollars by selling diamonds mined by rebel factions in Sierra Leone.
By restricting these violent groups' ability to sell diamonds, lawmakers hope to hinder their ability to wage war and wreak havoc.
"This is a bill that's going to save some lives," said Hall, a Dayton Democrat, who is the legislation's chief sponsor.
The Bush administration has endorsed the measure as "a means to sever the link" between the illicit and legitimate diamond trade, said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., reading Tuesday night from a letter by the State Department.
House approval also should "clear the way" for passage in the Senate, said a spokeswoman for Ohio Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, who backs the legislation.
No system now: Industry estimates suggest that conflict diamonds constitute only a small percentage of the total global stock, but there is no system in place to track a diamond from its place of purchase back to its point of origin. Therefore, it's impossible to tell whether terrorists or rebels are benefiting from the sale.
Hall's bill would ban imports of conflict diamonds by tracking the precious stones' origin as they pass through U.S. customs.
Specifically, the legislation requires that all diamonds imported into the United States must be sealed in a secure container that is marked with a registration code indicating the country of origin.
To be confiscated: Diamonds imported otherwise will be confiscated, with proceeds being deposited into a fund for war victims.
Hall said the House's passage would serve as a catalyst for an international effort, known as the Kimberley Process, to create a global tracking and certification system to ensure a clean stream of diamonds into the marketplace.

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