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Sierra Leone: over 1,000 ex-fighters turn in weapons at UN disarmament centres

Sierra Leone: over 1,000 ex-fighters turn in weapons at UN disarmament centres

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) today reported that more than 1,000 former combatants had handed in their weapons since the beginning of a UN disarmament programme last Friday.

The fighters from the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the government-backed Civil Defence Force (CDF) were disarmed in Kambia and Port Loko districts. On Friday, RUF brigade commander Col. Bai Bureh led a group of soldiers, including about 10 women, into the UNAMSIL disarmament centre, and also turned over 58 child combatants.

The simultaneous disarmament of the RUF and CDF was agreed at the Abuja Ceasefire Review meeting on 2 May. The timetable and modalities were finalized on 15 May in Freetown at a meeting between the RUF, the Government and UNAMSIL.

The hand-over process will continue in the two districts until 28 May, after which it will be extended to the rest of the country at the district level.

In a related development, Sierra Leonean President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, accompanied by UNAMSIL chief Oluyemi Adeniji, paid a brief visit to Conakry on Saturday to discuss an incident that had occurred on Friday when the Guinean army bombarded the Sierra Leonean town of Rokupr in the Kambia district while the RUF fighters were disarming. According to UNAMSIL, the Guinean authorities expressed their full support for the disarmament programme and Sierra Leone. It was agreed that the bombardment "was due to a communication gap and that immediate steps would be taken to prevent a recurrence," the UN Mission said in a statement.

These and other developments in Sierra Leone were the subject of Security Council closed-door consultations in New York today, when the 15-member body heard a briefing by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi. Following the consultations, the President of the Security Council told the press that the Council members welcomed the disarmament developments, but noted that the "RUF lacks credibility and must be held to its commitments."

"There is still a long way to go," Ambassador James Cunningham of the United States said. "The momentum to disarm and demobilize has to be maintained and UNAMSIL needs to remain vigilant."

He added that the Council members noted the importance of the disarmament programme itself and urged more international support to the process.