WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (RNS) -- To many, diamonds are prized tokens of love, trust and commitment. But others see sinister visions in the sought-after gems: blood, violence, torture.

"People have been taught by very good advertising campaigns thatdiamonds mean love and devotion, but to a lot of people in Africadiamonds mean death, amputation and butchery," Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio,told a news conference Wednesday to announce a proposal forstricter regulations on imported diamonds. More than half of the world'squality diamonds are sold in the United States.

"For each lucky American who gets a diamond there will be dozens ofAfricans who paid in blood."

Lawmakers can help stop those deaths by approving proposedlegislation that would ban the importation of so-called "conflictdiamonds" into the United States, said Hall, one of three co-sponsors ofthe Clean Diamonds Act.

Activists say the profits from such diamonds are used by groups inconflict zones -- primarily Sierra Leone, Congo and Angola -- to buyweapons and abuse human rights.

The Clean Diamonds Act calls for a global certification system toverify that diamonds sold on international markets are "clean." The actalso urges establishment of a group to monitor the certification system,and requires that the new import regulations take effect by September.

The proposal would redirect profits from illegal diamond sales tohelp victims, Hall said.

"Any contraband diamonds caught entering the U.S. market can beseized and sold to pay for prosthetic limbs, microcredit projects, andother relief to war victims," he pointed out.

Though conflict diamond sales comprise an estimated 4 percent to 15percent of the world's annual $56 billion diamond trade, "soldiers andrebels are making $37 million a day trading blood diamonds and they'llpocket about $2 billion a year," said Bruce Wilkinson, senior vicepresident of international programs for World Vision, the Christianrelief organization.

"That goes a long way in a place where an AK-47 is $6," he said.

Rebel groups "could not turn diamonds into contraband withoutcomplicity from the diamond industry," Hall said. "This has got tostop."

The diamond industry has long denied involvement in the illicitsmuggling of "conflict diamonds," but last July the World DiamondCongress pledged to set up an international certification system thatwould track the origin and sale of diamonds.

Little has been done since then, speakers said.

A letter reminding the World Diamond Congress of its pledge wasreleased at the press conference. The letter was signed by more than 50human rights and faith-based groups, including the National Associationof Evangelicals, World Relief, the Commission on Social Action of ReformJudaism, Baptist Alliance and the National Council of Churches.

Hall said the proposal he co-sponsored with Reps. Cynthia A.McKinney, D-Ga., and Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., "gives the industry a yearmore than it said it needed to take the steps it should have undertakenyears ago."

But speakers stopped short of calling for a boycott of diamonds.

"We're not advocating a boycott -- that has never been ourintention," said Rory Anderson, government relations manager and Africapolicies specialist with World Vision. "We just want diamonds to be usedfor development, not destruction."

The mangled ear and metal hook-hand of one speaker -- 27-year-oldMuctar Jalloh -- bore testament to the suffering linked to the sale ofconflict diamonds. Jalloh said he was attacked nearly two years ago bySierra Leone's United Revolutionary Front -- whose annual diamondprofits are at least $25 million, according to estimates.

"People stopped wearing fur because animals were being killed," saidJalloh, as two young girls from Sierra Leone -- each with arms amputatedby rebels -- looked on from the audience. "Will you care more aboutanimals than your African brothers?"