'Truth' commission offers fresh hope for civil war victims

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has begun a long battle to secure justice for victims of the country's bloody civil war.

The Commission, which was set up almost one year ago, commenced its first project - a 'public hearings phase' - today after collecting about 7,100 statements from victims, witnesses and instigators of atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war.

An opening ceremony in the capital, Freetown, marked the commencement of the Committee’s work and was attended by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as well as other dignitaries from the diplomatic corps and local populace.

The Commission's Chairman, Bishop Joseph Humper of the United Methodist Church, told delegates the TRC will hold hearings in each of the country's twelve districts and the Western Area between mid-April and July.

It hopes to collect statements from about 700 victims and perpetrators of the violence which began in March 1991 after armed combatants crossed the border from Liberia into the South-Eastern part of the country.

Representatives of factions involved in the war, including an official of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), pledged co-operation with the TRC thus raising hopes that some former rebel fighters will come forward to testify.

A farmer whose right hand was hacked off by a child soldier was the first to tell his story publicly before the Commission.