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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 19:21 GMT 20:21 UK
Sierra Leone rebels yield diamond town
Rebel soldiers
The RUF wants to form a party to contest elections
By Saffar Moriba in Kenema

There has been further progress in the disarmament process in Sierra Leone.

Troops from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, have been deployed for the first time in the diamond-rich town of Tongo in the Kenema district.


This is what I've been waiting for - I'm going home tomorrow

50-year-old woman
Tongo had been under the control of the rebel Revolutionary United Front and a few weeks ago the RUF also gave up Kono, another diamond-rich area.

Analysts say that the existence of so-called "blood diamonds" largely explain why it has proved so difficult to end Sierra Leone's long-running civil war.

Convoy

The UN has imposed sanctions on the government of neighbouring Liberia, accusing it of selling diamonds for the RUF and supplying it with weapons.

Last week, the Sierra Leone Government released 11 RUF detainees.


On Friday a convoy of vehicles and 12 armoured personnel carriers left Kenema with heavily-armed Zambian UNAMSIL peacekeepers heading for Tongo, 27 kilometres (17 miles) away.

The commander of the troops Lieutenant Colonel James Chikumbi told the BBC that he will deploy nearly 500 men in the town with more to follow in the coming days.

Civilians lined the main streets of Kenema, cheering the soldiers.

Queuing

When I visited the main lorry park, I saw nine vehicles loaded with goods and passengers queuing to go to Tongo.

Few drivers have made the journey in the last few weeks.

A 50 year-old woman told me: "This is what I've been waiting for - I'm going home tomorrow."

UN peacekeepers supervise the handing in of weapons
Rebels' disarmament is part of the current ceasefire agreement

This is the second major deployment undertaken by the Zambian troops out of Kenema town since they arrived here five months ago.

They were first deployed at the strategic Mano junction 12 kilometres from Kenema.

Pro-government Kamajor militiamen and RUF rebels have clashed several times for control of Tongo.

A UN official told me that much-need humanitarian aid will soon reach the people of the town.

See also:

06 Sep 01 | Africa
Sierra Leone names elections date
02 Sep 01 | UK
UK cuts Sierra Leone troops
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