Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Her country is rich in diamonds, but until recently, 4-year-old Memunatu Mansaray had little hope she would wear a pretty ring on her right hand when she grows up.

Her hand, wrist, forearm and elbow were hacked off by rebels in Sierra Leone when they invaded the capital of Freetown in January 1999.

With seven other amputee victims ranging in age from 4 to 47, Memunatu appeared on Capitol Hill yesterday to educate the American people on the brutality of the civil war in her homeland.

The eight left shortly after the appearance for New York, where they will receive medical treatment and be fitted for artificial limbs at the expense of private organizations including the Rotary clubs of Staten Island and Brooklyn.

“Twenty-thousand men, women and children have suffered the same excruciating pain and suffering as the eight of us sitting before you,” said Muctar Jalloh, 27, whose right arm and right ear were cut off by a rebel with a machete in April 1998.

At the time, he was a college student and seen by rebels as an enemy.

“The war is not tribal, and it is not religious,” Mr. Jalloh told members of the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa. “It is simply largely a war over control of diamonds.”

The civil war in Sierra Leone broke out in 1991. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, has since killed, raped and maimed thousands of men, women and children.

More than 20,000 people have been killed, and half of Sierra Leone’s 4.5 million people are refugees.

“The war has introduced a new, and particularly grisly, form of terrorism the purposeful cutting off and mutilation of limbs,” said a statement by the Friends of Sierra Leone, a group formed by returned Peace Corps volunteers and other Americans concerned about the country.

“Most of the victims have been innocent civilians, and a high percentage has been young children,” the statement said.

Among the eight amputee victims, five are younger than 15. Two are only 4 years old. Each has lost either an arm or a leg to the war.

Lawmakers said they hope the visit to Washington will help raise public awareness and encourage offers of assistance.

“I am here to ask you for help in bringing the killing and maiming to an end,” Mr. Jalloh said. “I am here to ask you to do everything in your power to protect the youngest and most innocent of God’s creation from this terrible manifestation of man’s worst greed.”

Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, said the crisis in Sierra Leone matters to Americans.

“It is clear to me and others here today that the Sierra Leone crisis hasn’t received the attention it deserves,” he said. “I believe today’s event cannot help but to force greater focus on the brutality in Sierra Leone, uncomfortable as it is, and the need for supporting a just and lasting peace there.”

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