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Freetown Meeting Calls for Help in Re-integrating Former Combatants into Society - 2002-01-17

In Sierra Leone, United Nations officials, members of the government, and rebel leaders have formally declared an end to the U.N.-sponsored disarmament program. They ended a meeting in the capital, Freetown, Thursday calling for international help in re-integrating thousands of former combatants, following the country's 10-year civil war.

The three sides making up Sierra Leone's joint committee on disarmament, demobilization and re-integration came together Thursday for what members said was their last meeting, in which they declared that disarmament is now complete throughout Sierra Leone.

U.N. and Sierra Leonean officials say a total of 4,6453 rebels with the Revolutionary United Front and pro-government militias handed over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers over a period of eight months, starting last May. U.N. peacekeepers officially stopped collecting weapons on January 11.

U.N. officials say some combatants have yet to turn in their guns and ammunition, but peacekeepers say they estimate the number of weapons still outstanding is low.

In a statement issued after the meeting Thursday, U.N. representatives, the Sierra Leonean government and RUF leaders made a call for the international community to assist in the re-integration of thousands of mostly young, former combatants into the Sierra Leonean society.

Responding to RUF complaints, the committee also agreed to consider asking the U.N. Security Council to lift the travel ban that RUF members are currently under.

The meeting was yet another event this week marking the final chapter of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. On Friday, the government will carry out a symbolic destruction of weapons outside Freetown. A number of heads of state have been invited to attend the ceremony.

On Saturday, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is scheduled to be at a second weapons-burning ceremony in the city of Makeni, the former rebel stronghold where the RUF is headquartered.