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Clamp down on Sierra Leone

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Anything that will make it more difficult for the rebels of Sierra Leone to carry out their various activities of destruction needs to be pursued. The United Nations deserves support for its plan to impose a global embargo on diamond exports from the war-torn country.

The rebel Revolutionary United Front unfortunately controls 90 percent of the country's diamond mines, which yield some of the best stones in the world. The RUF has been trading gems for guns to fuel Sierra Leone's civil war.

A dispute exists over how long the embargo should be enforced. France wants it to run for 18 months while the United States prefers 36 months. Minor quibbling like that must not prevent essential action. An 18-month embargo is much better than no embargo at all.

In this case, the rebels don't understand good will. Only tough measures will bring results. The rebels' record of atrocities during a brutal civil war that has ravaged the west African state for almost a decade is deplorable. Imposing an embargo is only one of a number of steps needed to stabilize Sierra Leone. The Security Council also is considering increasing the peacekeeping force from 3,000 to 16,500.

The West at some point must become involved if there is to be peace in the region. The White House has said it would provide air support for a contingent of Bangladeshi peacekeepers, but that is hardly going to stabilize the situation.

If transportation and equipment are all that Western nations contribute to Sierra Leone and other hot spots such as the Congo, the administration's promise that a Rwanda-type disaster won't happen again would ring hollow. A strong Western presence, led by the United States and Britain, was the key to abating senseless killing in Bosnia and Kosovo, and that may well be required to stop the bloodshed in Africa.

The world community needs to send a message to the Revolutionary United Front that its despicable acts of reckless and destructive behavior can no longer be tolerated. Imposing a global embargo on diamond exports is an appropriate way to begin sending that message.