Amputees to take part in reconciliation hearings

Sierra Leone's war amputees have agreed to take part in reconciliation hearings due to be organised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Bishop Joseph Humper, chairman of the Commission, told IRIN on Friday.

Amputees living at Murray Town camp in the capital, Freetown, had told the TRC during a meeting last week, that they would boycot the hearings because their issues and concerns had not been addressed.

On Saturday 31 August, the amputees demanded food, monthly allowances, and health and education facilities during a radio broadcast. The Sierra Leonean government had only given priority to ex-combatants, they said.

Humper said the amputees were important to the reconciliation hearings, and was pleased with their decision to take part.

"They are key stakeholders," he told IRIN. "Their representatives met the president and other government leaders, who have promised to address their grievances. They have withdrawn their threat [of a boycott] and said they will cooperate with the TRC."

A government statement on Wednesday said that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had dissuaded the amputees from pursuing a boycott and pledged that the government would pay more attention to their needs, despite the severe constraints it faces.

"What appears to be greater attention being paid to ex-combatants at the expense of their victims is, in fact, part of the peace process..." the statement said. "The country now lives in peace [and will] now focus more attention on the needs of amputees."

Several thousand Sierra Leoneans had their limbs amputated during the 1991-2001 war between government soldiers and rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The rebels are believed to have committed most of the atrocities.

The international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or 'Doctors Without Borders') reported that the amputees - whose limbs were brutally chopped off for the most part - had lived with pains for up to four years after being amputated. Many of suffered "stump and phantom pains", it said.

At least 1,000 amputees are estimated to be alive in Sierra Leone; many others of those whose limbs were amputated died from infection or associated injuries.

The TRC hopes to produce an impartial record of violations of human rights, address impunity, help the victims of war and rights abuses, promote healing and reconciliation, and make recommendations to prevent a recurrence of similar abuses in Sierra Leone.