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Americans Call for Compensation for Afghan Victims Families - 2002-01-29

Four people who lost relatives in the September 11 terror attacks in the United States have just returned home from an emotional visit to Afghanistan. During the trip, the four met with Afghans who lost loved ones during U.S. air strikes against the Taleban. The four Americans are calling for compensation for Afghan families who lost relatives to U.S. bombs.

Seventy-year-old Rita Lasar lost her brother, Abe Zelmanowitz on September 11. Although Mr. Zelmanowitz could have escaped the 27th floor of One World Trade Center, he died after deciding to stay with his friend who could not get out because he was confined to a wheelchair. Mrs. Lasar says that after her brother's death, strangers showered her with support. During the trip to Afghanistan, Mrs. Lasar was able to reach out to families determined to overcome almost endless suffering. "I didn't want to leave when I left, and I want to go back again. We went to schools that had hardly any paper or pencils and found artists," says Mrs. Lasar. "They live in rubble. Imagine sand castles after the water has come back to reclaim most of the sand. That is what they live in. They live in cold that I did not believe existed."

Kelly Campbell's brother-in-law, Craig Amundson, was killed in the attack on the Pentagon. Ms. Campbell has returned from Afghanistan with a strong belief that the U.S. government must help the relatives of Afghans killed in the bombing. She says she sat with Afghans and they exchanged stories and photographs of their lost relatives in a bond of grief. "It was such a gift for me to be able to go and meet these people and to hear their stories and to bring their stories here to the people in the U.S. and to people around the world. Because their stories are our stories," says Ms. Campbell. "Their lives are like the lives of our loved ones who were lost. And it's important, no matter what people think about the U.S. bombing, for people to hear about the consequences of that bombing."

Ms. Campbell brought letters from American school children for Afghan youngsters. Although the Afghan children barely have classrooms, let alone school supplies, they were eager to write back. Ms. Campbell read one of the letters written by an Afghan girl who speaks English. "Hello, dears. We received your letters. Thanks a lot. We are very sorry for [the] September 11 situation in your beautiful country. As you might know, the same situation repeatedly happened in our country since almost 20 years. We have lost our parents, our brothers, sisters, the bloody 20-years war has killed thousands of our people. Among them, the number of children is much more than the other. Accept our greetings. Please, do not forget us. We are with you."

The group, sponsored by the human rights organization Global Exchange, plans to travel to Washington to meet with members of Congress and make the case for compensation.