Sierra Leone rebels disarm

Smashing his rifle to ruins with a hammer, a rebel fighter opened U.N.-monitored disarmament Monday in Sierra Leone’s diamond center-one of the most fought over regions in the 10-year-old war.

Rebel Maj. Abdul Rahman Jabbie was one of 30 rebel fighters and eight pro-government militia members to lay down their arms Monday in the Kono district, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

Neither side has signed a new peace deal-after the rebels broke earlier accords by attacking civilians. But a cease-fire signed earlier in the year is generally holding, the AP reports. Thousands of rebels and government-allied militia members already have disarmed elsewhere in the West African nation.

But disarmament was especially significant in Kono, which the rebels have held for at least three years as one of their most sought prizes of the war.

Young men dug in diamond pits with crude tools even as the disarmament got under way Monday, the AP reports. Kono district lay destroyed by the war, with most houses without roofs and hungry men, women, and children wandering the area.

The rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has waged a more than 10-year-old campaign of terror-killing, burning, raping civilians, and making a trademark of hacking off limbs with machetes.

Rebels fought to win control of the government and the West African nation’s diamond fields like Kono.

The number of fighters disarming on the first day was smaller than expected, with each side doubtful about the other’s intention to comply.

The AP reports that Militia spokesman Sarh Gborie said the eight brought by his side was a “symbolic figure … to demonstrate we are prepared to disarm. Our fear is, we want to see the RUF disarm simultaneously.”

The pro-government militias have violated the year’s cease-fire with scattered attacks on the rebels in diamond areas. The militias were thought to be trying to seize the diamond fields ahead of any final peace talks.

Monday’s newly retired fighters will join others at a disarmament camp, where the United Nations is lagging behind in efforts to install water, electricity, and even fences, the AP reports.