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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 December, 2003, 18:06 GMT
Liberian soldiers hand over guns
Some of Liberia's weapons
Many of Liberia's soldiers are children

Hundreds of soldiers handed in their weapons on Sunday at the official launch of a UN-sponsored disarmament programme in Liberia.

More than 1,000 soldiers of ousted President Charles Taylor laid down their weapons.

UN forces are expected to oversee the disarmament of around 40,000 troops, including child soldiers.

As part of the programme, the soldiers will be given $300, counselling and vocational training.

'Last chance'

The UN launched the nine-month disarmament scheme on 1 December, although Sunday's handover outside the capital Monrovia was the official launch.

Kalashnikovs, grenades and mortars were among the weapons handed in.

UN envoy Jacques Klein said: "This is Liberia's last chance. Liberia must put an end to war, or war will put an end to Liberia."

Some of the soldiers who handed in their weapons were children, including 13-year-old Richard Jack, once an "officer" with President Taylor's feared Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU).

This is Liberia's last chance. Liberia must put an end to war, or war will put an end to Liberia
Jacques Klein, UN envoy

Holding an AK-47, he said: "I started fighting at the age of six. I decided to turn in my gun because I want to go back to school."

The disarmament deal was drawn up after President Taylor's departure into exile in August paved the way for a peace deal between government forces and the main rebel factions.

That followed a 14-year civil war which killed more than 200,000 Liberians.

Disarming and reintegrating the fighters into society is regarded as crucial to draw a line under the bloody conflict.

Rebel fighters are due to assemble in camps before the end of the year to hand in their weapons.

A total of 15,000 UN troops are expected to form a peacekeeping force in Liberia to monitor the disarmament, although there are only 4,500 in the country at the moment.

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