The United Nations has held a symbolic ceremony in Liberia to mark the start of disarmament by former warring parties. Former rebels are calling for the full implementation of a power-sharing peace deal as a precondition to complete disarmament.
The U.N. peace envoy in Liberia Jacques Klein said the disarmament of former rebels and government militias is just the first step to ensure lasting peace, after nearly two decades of civil war.
"The people of Liberia, the rest of the international community have come together to start the program of disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration," he said. "Together our task will be to provide a better future for the over 40,000 combatants from the former government of Liberia, MODEL and LURD forces. But our greater objective will be to actively participate in the architecture of a more secure, more stable and certainly, more prosperous Liberia."
United Nations peacekeepers already on the ground are setting up three disarmament sites which will become operational by Sunday, one in Monrovia and one each in Tubmanburg and Buchanan.
Those who hand in weapons will be given $300 and professional training to be able to work as civilians.
Interim Liberian leader Gyude Bryant said he hopes U.N. disarmament experts will make the program succeed.
"I'm not going to say too much because I don't know how you do this thing," he said. "I'm just eager to see it happen. I want to say here that you have full endorsement of this government and people and we applaud you and we urge you to go on with the process so that we can get rid of the arms. Thank you."
A spokesman for the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, Cheyee Doe, said he hoped the Liberian peace accord will be fully implemented so disarmament can take place as scheduled.
"We will disarm once we all stick to the accord. We will disarm," he said. "The accord should be respected. The accord has been violated on several occasions and it should be respected."
Rebels have accused Mr. Bryant of failing to properly apportion important posts in his government among the former fighting forces.
Mr. Bryant, a prominent businessman, was picked last August to lead Liberia until elections in 2005. The appointment came after months of peace talks in Ghana.
A U.N. peacekeeping force of as many as 15,000 troops is slowly deploying from the capital Monrovia into outlying areas, where looting by armed fighters continues.