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Sierra Leone Rebels Threaten to Suspend Disarmament - 2001-11-21

The disarmament effort in Sierra Leone, now closer to completion, has hit a new snag. Rebels in the eastern Kailahun district say they will suspend the handover of weapons. Rebels with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are protesting what they believe was their exclusion from discussions last week, in which leaders and activists gathered to discuss the country's political future following a brutal 10 year civil war.

The latest hitch in Sierra Leone's peace process happened when rebel fighters said they felt left out at a conference held in the capital, Freetown, last week, in which political parties, activists and citizens came together to discuss electoral reforms ahead of next year's presidential elections.

The meeting, which included members of the RUF's political wing, was seen by observers as an important step toward ensuring a peaceful transfer of power and the installation of an inclusive government.

The acting head of the U.N. Special Mission in Sierra Leone, Behrooz Sadry, on Tuesday said U.N. officials were holding discussions with the rebels in Kailahun in an effort to keep the disarmament process on track.

Despite the snag, U.N. officials say disarmament will soon be completed throughout Sierra Leone. The U.N. Special Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) says more than 35,000 ex-combatants have turned in their weapons since the program began in May. The figure has far exceeded earlier U.N. expectations.

The 10 year war killed or maimed tens of thousands of people, as rebel forces fought for control of the country's rich diamond fields.

It was only after the signing of a cease-fire accord in Abuja, Nigeria, last year; the arrival of British troops; and a massive deployment of U.N. peacekeepers that the fighting has largely come to an end.

Earlier this week, U.N. officials announced the final contingent of U.N. troops had arrived in Sierra Leone, bringing to 17,500 the number of U.N. soldiers in the country.