Sierra Leone disarmament is nearly complete

Sierra Leone saw its single largest day of disarmament in a three-month U.N. cease-fire, with more than 1,000 combatants laying down arms in the crucial Kono diamond district, officials said Wednesday.

In all, 625 rebel fighters came out of the bush Tuesday in the northern district, handing over weapons and giving themselves up at demobilization camps, U.N. mission spokesman Patrick Coker said.

The mass surrender came a day after rebel commander Gen. Issa Sesay traveled to the diamond district, personally delivering the order to his men to give up the fight, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Almost 450 fighters for the pro-government militias battling the rebels also laid down arms in Kono.

Sierra Leone’s rebels have fought a 10-year campaign aimed at winning control of the West African nation’s government and diamond fields, using ferocious terror tactics against civilians.

Peace efforts moved forward this year as rebels came under heavy pressure from highly trained British troops and the military of neighboring Guinea.

A total of about 8,000 combatants have disarmed since mid-May.

U.N. force commander Gen. Daniel Opande of Kenya traveled to Kono District after the mass disarmament, the AP reported.

Tuesday was supposed to have been the last day of disarmament in Kono District, but the United Nations extended the deadline by at least a week, the AP reported. By U.N. numbers, however, Tuesday’s disarmament would leave few armed fighters still in the diamond district.

The rebel headquarters in the towns of Makeni, in central Sierra Leone, and Kailahun, in the east, are left as two of the key areas in which rebel fighters have yet to give up their weapons, the AP reported.

On Wednesday, rebels blocked a planned deployment of Sierra Leone police in Makeni and another central town, the AP reported. One of the issues raised by rebels in refusing to allow the deployment was the recent death of their attorney general, Solomon Rogers, in prison in Freetown last month, said Dominic Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s inspector of police.

U.N. and British officials headed to the region to try to negotiate an end to the impasse over the deployment, the AP reported.