Sleone Rebel Chief Predicts 1,500 Will Disarm in former Bastion
Sierra Leonean rebels, including children, Wednesday continued to disarm for the third straight day in their former bastion of Makeni, in the north, with their leader saying a total of 1,500 would do so by the end of October.
"Men, women and children are continuing to disarm today. You can hear music on the streets, the people are very happy and there is singing and dancing," Issa Sesay, interim head of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), told AFP by telephone
"More than 500 people have disarmed since Friday. We think that by the end of the month, the process will be complete and at least 1,500 people would have disarmed."
Disarmament in Makeni, 140 kilometres (85 miles) north of Freetown, was stalled by the rebels at the end of last month, shortly after it began.
But the process resumed last Friday after talks between the RUF, the Freetown government and the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The end of the month is the deadline set for Makeni in an ongoing disarmament process launched this year under a peace deal to end the devastating civil war here.
More than 18,000 rebels and members of a state-backed militia of an estimated total of 45,000 have laid down their weapons.
Witnesses said the former combattants were surrendering AK-47 assault rifles, mortar bombs, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and several rounds of ammunition.
RUF spokesman Eldred Collins has stressed that shotguns must be handed over in addition to other weapons.
"We will start a parallel recovery programme which will involve the collection of shotguns," he added.
A state-backed civil militia comprising traditional Kamajor hunters had opposed surrendering shotguns on the grounds that they were "traditional weapons".
However, at the tripartite talks last week, the RUF, government officials and UN peacekeepers agreed that all shotguns should be handed over to UNAMSIL for safekeeping until a decision was taken.
The RUF rebel drive, which started in 1991, has claimed tens of thousands of lives and maimed or otherwise wounded an equal number -- Freetown, (AFP)
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