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SLUG: 2-285410 Sierra Leone / Weapons (L)
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=01/18/02

TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT

NUMBER=2-285410

TITLE=SIERRA LEONE / WEAPONS (L O)

BYLINE=LUIS RAMIREZ

DATELINE=FREETOWN

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

INTRO: People in Sierra Leone are celebrating following a symbolic burning of weapons marking the end of the country's ten-year civil war. The ceremony came after more than 46-thousand rebels with the Revolutionary United Front R-U-F and pro-government militias handed over their weapons to U-N peacekeepers over the course of eight months. V-O-A's Luis Ramirez reports from the town of Lungi, where Friday's ceremony took place.

TEXT: /// MUSIC, EST AND FADE UNDER ///

People danced as police doused pieces of nearly three-thousand weapons with kerosene and set them on fire. Those weapons were among the ones used in a conflict that has killed an estimated 200-thousand people and left thousands of others maimed.

Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah called the weapons-burning ceremony an awe-inspiring declaration of piece in Sierra Leone.

Among those attending the ceremony was the Revolutionary United Front's interim leader, General Issa Sesay, who said his group is fully committed to the peace process.

He told V-O-A he and the group's top commanders plan to follow the lead of the lower ranks and turn in their own weapons on Saturday.

Officials with the U-N mission in Sierra Leone say the last large group of combatants turned in their weapons on January 11th.

The disarmament followed the deployment of British troops and more than 17-thousand U-N peacekeepers.

At the ceremony Friday, President Kabbah announced the lifting of the night-time curfew that Sierra Leoneans have been living under for the past several years.

In marking the symbolic end to the war, Mr. Kabbah said the real test of whether lasting peace has truly come to Sierra Leone will be in May, when the country holds presidential elections.

The Revolutionary United Front is in the process of converting itself from a rebel group to a political party. R-U-F leaders say they continue to view jailed rebel leader Foday Sankoh as its likely candidate in the elections.

Mr. Sankoh, who was arrested nearly two year ago, remains in prison at an undisclosed location. Many here expect him to be among those prosecuted for war crimes in a newly established U-N special court. (Signed)

NEB/LR/KL/KBK



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