Truth hearings delayed to November

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) plans to commence public hearings in November after setting up facilities for the hearings in several regions of the country, officials said on Tuesday.

The TRC had hoped to commence the hearings in October but was forced to rethink after cutting its proposed 12-month budget from US $10 million to about $6 million, following a lukewarm response from donors.

"The new budget was last month submitted to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. There are indications that it will be approved," acting spokesperson, Yebu Bangura, told IRIN.

"Soon there should be some money in the kitty," she added. "The commissioners will then identify centres for the hearings to start in November."

One of the key target groups for the hearings is war amputees, according to Bangura. They said on Saturday that they intended to boycott the hearings.

"Last week, the TRC visited the amputees. They read a petition saying they would boycott the hearings until they were given food, monthly allowances, health and education facilities," Bangura told IRIN.

Several thousand Sierra Leoneans had their limbs amputated during fighting between government soldiers and rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The rebels are believed to have committed most of the atrocities.

Amputees living at Murray Town camp in the capital, Freetown, on Saturday broadcast a statement on Sierra Leone radio repeating their demands. Camp secretary-general Sahr Soriba said they also wanted a life stipend of rice, a monthly allowance and repatriation grants so they could go back to their villages.

Bangura said most of amputees' demands fell beyond the TRC's mandate.

"We are equally concerned and will make recommendations to the appropriate authorities," she said. "However, there is a misunderstanding: the TRC is not part of government [and able] to provide the amputees with what they require. It is an independent commission."

Inaugurated officially on 5 July, the TRC is intended to offer a forum where perpetrators and victims of abuses during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war can "tell their stories in an effort to heal the wounds of war".

The Commission hopes to produce an impartial record of violations of human rights and humanitarian law, address impunity, help the victims, promote healing and reconciliation, and prevent any repetition of abuses.