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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 13:08 GMT
Last Sierra Leone rebels disarm
RUF fighter demobilises
The UN has been overseeing the programme
Sierra Leone's rebel disarmament programme has been completed in a symbolic ceremony in the east of the country.

Eleven top rebel commanders handed their guns to United Nations peacekeepers, which it is hoped will end one of Africa's most brutal wars.

Since May 2001, the biggest United Nations peacekeeping force in the field has disarmed more than 45,000 fighters from various factions, after more than a decade of bloodshed.

Elections are due to be held in May.

Sustainable peace...has to be achieved by the Sierra Leoneans themselves while we in our mission continue to give them support

General Opande
The ceremonial closure of the last disarmament camp took place in the diamond-rich eastern district of Kailahun late on Friday, near where Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels fired their first shots in March 1991.

Up to 50,000 people were killed in the war.

UN field commander Daniel Opande said the peacekeeping force should congratulate itself "for a job well done".

Forthcoming trials

He told the rebel commanders: "Your task now as civilians is to sustain the peace you have now given your people, especially the children who have to go to school."

The rebels earned a reputation for press-ganging children into their ranks and cutting off limbs in a war marked by brutality to civilians on all sides.

A UN war crimes court is being set up to try ringleaders for the atrocities.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh is expected to be a defendant. Some rebels have said there will be no lasting peace until he is released from custody.

The BBC's Mark Doyle
"Many people are keeping arms"
See also:

19 Oct 01 | Correspondent
Blood diamonds
03 Jan 02 | Africa
War crimes court for Sierra Leone
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