- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

From combined dispatches
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone Most fighters in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war have turned over their weapons to peacekeepers in a disarmament program aimed at securing peace in the volatile West African nation, a senior U.N. official said yesterday.
The disarmament phase officially ended Saturday, but several hundred combatants were expected to continue handing over their arms until today, said Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, the acting commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force.
"Although the period has officially ended, those who are still armed and have arrived at the reception centers will be disarmed," Gen. Agwai said.
After the remaining fighters lay down their weapons, about 45,000 rebels and pro-government militiamen will have been disarmed, Gen. Agwai said.
Since it began earlier this year, the U.N.-sponsored program, crucial to ending a decade of fighting, has taken in 1.5 million rounds of ammunition and thousands of weapons, including rifles, mortars and anti-aircraft guns.
Disarmament was initially scheduled for completion Nov. 30, but had been repeatedly delayed by rebels calling for the release of their jailed leader, Foday Sankoh, and by sporadic clashes in eastern diamond-mining districts.
Rebels led by Mr. Sankoh killed, maimed and raped thousands of civilians in the 10-year war fought chiefly to gain control of the country's government and diamond fields.
The fighters signed a cease-fire agreement with the government in November.
Local media reports said some rebels were hiding their weapons across the border in neighboring Liberia. And many residents, deeply suspicious of the rebels, believe hordes of weapons are still buried in secret locations in Sierra Leone.
Reuters news agency reported yesterday that five U.N. peacekeepers from Zambia were killed and a dozen others seriously wounded in Sierra Leone when a box of mortar shells they were moving accidentally blew up.
The mortar shells had been turned over to the U.N. mission in the West African nation as part of the disarmament drive.
The incident occurred Saturday in eastern Sierra Leone as the mortar shells were being transported by a battalion of Zambian peacekeepers, the officials said.

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