Sierra Leone disarmament resumes

A stalled disarmament program in Sierra Leone’s eastern diamond fields has gotten under way again after a rebel leader ordered his fighters to lay down their arms, a U.N. spokesman said on Wednesday.

Rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had halted disarmament two weeks ago in the diamond-mining town of Tongo Fields, about 125 miles southeast of the capital, Freetown.

But U.N. spokesman Tafirenyika Masimba said 25 rebels had handed over their arms to U.N. peacekeepers there on Wednesday, the Associated Press (AP) reported. “We are satisfied that the disarmament has started and we are hopeful to see it through by the end of this year,” Masimba said.

More than 37,000 combatants on all sides of the 10-year civil war have turned in their weapons since a cease-fire was signed late last year, according to U.N. figures.

The process was due to have ended Nov. 30, but it has repeatedly been delayed in the districts of Kailahun and Kenema, where Tongo Fields is located.

Masimba said 481 rebels-including 110 child fighters-had disarmed in Kailahun on Tuesday and Wednesday, the AP reported.

On Monday, RUF interim leader Issa Sesay issued orders to his followers to lay down their arms. He said rebels had delayed disarmament because they wanted to discuss the continued detention of their founding leader, Foday Sankoh, and others with the government and United Nations, the AP reported.