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UN Expands Disarmament Program in Liberia - 2004-04-20

The U.N. disarmament program in Liberia has expanded to the port city of Buchanan, five days after the process began in the central city of Gbarnga. Officials say the program is now going well, after problems forced it to be suspended in December.

Spokeswoman Margaret Novicki says the U.N. is reaching its goal of disarming 250 former combatants each day in Gbarnga, which is a stronghold for the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD.

Ms. Novicki also says reports from Buchanan indicate the disarming of former rebels from the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL, is also going well.

"I heard from our office this morning on the ground that it was proceeding very smoothly, that the MODEL ex-combatants were waiting in line for the disarmament process," she said. "You know it is going very well."

The disarmament process initially launched in December of last year had to be suspended when many former combatants converged on the one established site outside of Monrovia. The rebels began to riot when money was not immediately handed over in exchange for their weapons.

This time, combatants have been told that they will remain in the camps for one week before they receive $150 and transport back to their communities, where the reintegration process will begin.

When the reintegration is completed, the former rebels are to receive an additional $150 to start their new lives.

A representative of the British-based relief agency Oxfam, Liz Hughes, says the former combatants have been waiting to disarm since the signing of the peace accord last August. But she is concerned that the plans for reintegration may not be ready.

"I think there is a reason why this process must start at this point, but it is probably also true that all the follow up plans certainly around the reintegration are really not in place in the way that they ought to be to make this a really successful process," she said.

Ms. Hughes says there is a need to prepare the host communities to accept the former rebels.

The disarmament process is scheduled to continue in Tubmanburg and Monrovia, no dates have yet been set.