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Former Rebels, Militias Start Training With Sierra Leone Army - 2001-07-30

In Sierra Leone, some 200 former rebels and pro-government militias begin training Monday with the country's army. The training is part of a plan to integrate former combatants into the army, as the West African country's brutal 10-year war appears to be coming to an end.

Those undergoing the training include former fighters of the Revolutionary United Front and pro-government militias who have been laying down their weapons over the past two months as part of a U.N.-sponsored disarmament program.

More than 6,000 fighters from both sides have disarmed in several districts, including the key eastern diamond-mining district of Kono. Leaders of both the RUF and the pro-government militias have pledged their commitment to peace and called on their fighters to disarm, raising hope that the war is finally ending.

The training of the first group of former combatants is taking place at Benguema camp outside the capital, Freetown. A Sierra Leone army spokesman, Major John Milton, says the majority of those in the first group are former RUF fighters. The group also includes ex-militias with the civil defense forces, or Kamajors.

The Sierra Leone army is considered crucial to the reconstruction of the country following a decade of war. The army has been taking up positions in areas surrendered by the rebels that have been out of government control for years. The infrastructure in these districts is in many cases destroyed. Under the guidance of hundreds of British advisers, Sierra Leonean soldiers are to work on repairing damaged bridges, schools and utilities.

U.N. officials say the pace of disarmament in the Kono district has picked up again, after coming to a near halt in early July. Spokeswoman Margaret Novicki says at least 532 RUF fighters and 726 Civil Defense Force militias laid down their weapons in the Kono district during the month of July.