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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Thursday 15 April 2004

LIBERIA: Disarmament starts smoothly in Gbarnga

DAKAR, 15 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations re-launched a programme to disarm an estimated 40,000 50,000 former combatants in Liberia on Thursday at a cantonment site in the northern town of Gbarnga, a UN spokeswoman in Liberia said.

"The entire day was incident free," Margaret Novicki, spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), told IRIN by telephone from the capital Monrovia.

A total of 255 fighters handed in their weapons at a special cantonment site set up in the former stronghold of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement, she added. Among them were 35 child soldiers.

"The combatants came to the programme in a very orderly manner," Novicki said.

The disarmament of Liberia's three armed factions is also due to get under way at three other cantonment sites by the end of this month.

UNMIL made a false start to the programme in early December, when hoards of gunmen loyal to former president Charles Taylor rioted on the streets of Monrovia, firing shots and demanding cash for handing in their weapons. At least nine people were killed in the disturbances.

Reuters reported from Gbarnga that an array of weaponry was handed over on Thursday, ranging from rifles to rocket launchers.

The news agency quoted officials at the cantonment site 150 km northeast of the capital Monrovia as saying so many fighters arrived to hand in their weapons that some had to be turned away.

Novicki said the former combatants would remain in the disarmament camp for a week, during which they would undergo screening, receive medical treatment and therapy to help them get over the trauma of war. They would also be asked what kind of training they wanted to help them get a job as they returned to civilian life.

Novicki said each fighter would receive a cash payment of US$ 150 dollars on discharge from the disarmament camp. They would then be sent back to their home community, where they would receive a further payment of $150 and skills training in due course.

Novicki said a second cantonment site would open at Buchanan, a port city 120 km southeast of Monrovia, on April 20. Buchanan is a stronghold of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) rebel movement.

She said work was still going on to complete the other two cantonment sites at VOA, on the outskirts of Monrovia, and Tubmanburg, a LURD military stronghold 60 km north of the capital

However, she told IRIN that both would be operational by the end of the month.

The disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programme is being supervised by UNMIL's 14,000 strong peacekeeping force in Liberia.

It is a key stage in Liberia's return to peace after 14 years of brutal civil warfare.

Jacques Klein, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Liberia, said in a statement: "Let us build on today's success to ensure a better tomorrow for all Liberia's citizens, a tomorrow where this nation's children are armed with pens and pencils instead of guns."

Diplomats and relief workers hope that disarmament in Liberia will help bring peace to a region beset by conflict and instability.

"Disarming the fighters must be done properly this time round it is to stand any chance of changing the culture of violence that has devastated Liberia and her neighbours for decades," Oxfam spokeswoman Helen Palmer said in a statement.

"That means putting serious resources into well planned programmes to provide education and vocational training to former combatants, while at the same time supporting their communities in the transition to peace," she added.

"The costs of not getting Liberia's disarmament process right are too great to contemplate," Palmer said. " They include continued attacks on civilians, a resumption of fighting and a spiralling cycle of violence in the region as gunmen move from one conflict to the next."


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