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'Cordial Mood' at Sierra Leone Talks - 2001-08-11

Sierra Leonean rebels with the Revolutionary United Front, RUF, are asking the government to release more rebels from prison. The demand came Friday during another round of peace talks in Kenema, a city in Sierra Leone's diamond-rich east.

Rebel commanders, government representatives and officials with the U.N. special mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSEL, met in Kenema to discuss the U.N. sponsored disarmament program.

Thousands of combatants have turned in their weapons, and rebels have ceded large pieces of territory captured during the brutal 10-year civil war.

Those present at the meeting in Kenema say the tone of discussions on Friday indicated a willingness on the part of all sides to continue the peace process.

The special representative of the U.N. secretary-general to Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, chaired the meeting. He said, "The overall mood was particularly cordial, much [more] cordial than the earlier meetings, which have been cordial enough, but this one was particularly cordial. And I think that ambiance was pretty far-sighted in preparing the release of some members of the RUF from detention."

The RUF welcomed the government's release on Thursday of 41 rebels. Those released included Paolo Bangura, who held a senior cabinet post in a military government that took power for several months following a coup in 1997.

The government's decision to free the 41 rebels follows complaints by the RUF, which has repeatedly accused the government of not matching the concessions that the rebels have made.

At Friday's meeting, the RUF called on the government to release more rebels from prison. Unlike at past encounters, the rebels did not specifically press for the release of their jailed leader, Foday Sankoh.

Disarmament continues in the key diamond mining Kono district, and has concluded in at least two other districts. U.N. officials say about 14,000 rebels and pro-government militias have turned in their weapons since the disarmament program began in May.

All sides on Friday agreed to begin disarming in two other districts, Koinadugu and Moyamba, in the next few days. Disarmament is scheduled begin next month in Bombali district, where the RUF is headquartered, and in Bo district, the site of the country's second largest city.