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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 01:05 GMT
Final phase in Afghan disarmament
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News, Kabul

Afghan militiamen
The UN aimed to disarm 60,000 militiamen in Afghanistan
A campaign to disarm tens of thousands of militiamen in Afghanistan has entered the final phase.

The disarmament programme started by the United Nations 18 months ago has already resulted in 45,000 men giving up their guns.

In the final four months, weapons will be collected from the remaining militia units, particularly around Kabul.

Militiamen who hand in their guns are given training to help them settle into civilian life.

Desire to settle

One of the greatest threats to Afghanistan's continued peace is the existence of tens of thousands of armed men in the militias of military commanders around the country.

It is unclear just how many private soldiers there are, but the UN scheme began with the target of disarming 60,000 of them.

There's no point in having parliamentary elections... if, at any time, a private army could roll into town
Rick Grant
UN official

It has now collected the guns of over two-thirds of that number.

The UN expected to reach their target by the end of June, a spokesman for the programme said.

Rick Grant said the disarmament teams had also been collecting heavy weapons, such as tanks and rockets, from around the country.

Nearly all heavy weapons still in working or repairable condition were now in the hands of the ministry of defence, he said.

QUICK GUIDE

"What we are doing by disarming all these units, is we are guaranteeing the physical security of the country," he said.

"There's no point in having parliamentary elections or writing constitutions or having a president, if, at any time, a private army could roll into town and there could be a coup d'etat or a civil war."

Afghanistan's gun culture makes it one of the most heavily-armed countries in the world, and critics say that many commanders simply have not declared all their weapons.

But even after private militias are dismantled, criminal gangs will also need to be disarmed.

Militiamen who have handed in their guns are given training to help them settle into civilian life.

Many become tailors or shopkeepers, or return to farm their family's smallholdings.

For many, their main desire is simply to get married and settle down after years under arms.


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