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Thursday, 18 March, 1999, 14:43 GMT
The victims of Sierra Leone's rebels
orthopaedic centre
The orthopaedic centre is working overtime to make new limbs
Jeremy Vine tells the story of two young victims of the war he met in 1999:

In a country where war has sown destruction on such a large scale, small friendships count for a lot.

Sierra Leone
Damba and Emma are eight and 10 years old and they are very close to each other. It is not just that they have been on a 200-mile journey together to get away from the fighting. It is also that both have lost a limb.

Sierra Leone's rebels don't seem to care who they target.

It happened last year. Their parents heard the rebels coming and fled their homes, leaving the two girls because they thought they would not be harmed.

The rebels used machetes to cut off their hands. The bond between the two seems to have helped them recover, with Emma, the oldest, looking out for her best friend.

Girls
The rebels used machetes to cut off the girls' hands
Sierra Leone had a democratic election in 1996 but the rebels won't accept their side lost. And ordinary people have been caught up in the ensuing mayhem and terror.

The families of Damba and Emma are now in the capital Freetown. But after rebels broke in two months ago, even these parts don't feel safe.

And of course, Emma's mother, Ali Matu Cesay, is still thinking about the mistake she made on that day, leaving her daughter.

"I feel so sorry because I was not expecting them to do shocking things to a little child like this.

mother
Emma's mother regrets leaving her daughter behind
"The (rebels) are saying that they are going to set an example. That they will start with the little children. From the children upwards.

"Sometimes she asks me if she will get the same hand again. And I will answer her that will get a similar hand back," Emma's mother says.

But it won't be until they're older. The girls were examined by occupational therapist George Kamara who said the most important thing is for them to learn to use their stumps before any artificial limbs are fitted.

Emma and Damba have no money. They'll have to join a long queue when that time comes.

Kamara
George Kamara: Amputation is "wickedness"
How can the rebels believe this helps their cause?

Mr Kamara says: "Emma is a kid - she hasn't got anything to do with politics. So cutting her hand for me, is a wickedness. Because that would not solve the problem. Cutting the hand of this child cannot solve the problem."

In a workshop next door, they are making artificial limbs. The only other orthopaedic centre in Sierra Leone was burned down by the rebels.

The centre is now working overtime, because in January, when the rebels got into Freetown, in a matter of days they are said to have amputated the limbs of around 1,500 people. So there is much work to be done there.

The girls will be back. But for now, without a thought about the war or what happened to them, they are off to play.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy Vine
"Sierra Leone's rebels don't seem to care who they target"
See also:

08 Mar 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
11 Jan 99 | Sierra Leone
09 Mar 99 | Africa
08 Jul 99 | Sierra Leone
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