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UN to Provide Job Training for Thousands of Former Liberian Rebels - 2004-04-13

The United Nations is working to raise funds to assist with job training of rebels in Liberia who hand over their weapons as part of the disarmament campaign due to begin Thursday.

The disarming of former combatants is scheduled to begin again in Liberia this week, after being postponed for nearly four months.

According to a U.N. spokesman, Charles Achodo, disarmament and demobilization is to start in Gbarnga on Thursday.

There are an estimated 40,000 rebels to disarm, the majority of whom are former child soldiers, who fought during 14 years of civil war. That conflict ended last August when former President Charles Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria, and a peace accord was signed.

Mr. Achodo says most of the former fighters have never received any form of education, or basic life skills training. He says this program is designed to give them an opportunity to determine what they want to do with their lives.

"During the time of demobilization, you have a fighter identify their options, what their preferences are, what do they want to do, where do they want to settle and what their future expectations are," he said. "And that needs to be based on planning for their reintegration assistance, whether they want to go back to school, whether they want to do vocational skills training. You don't just gather groups at the camp and start training them."

Last week, members of the rebel movement, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, looted agencies in the Gbarnga area, demanding money and saying the leaders of their movement had deserted them.

A former adviser with LURD, Joe Wylie, blames the delays for the unrest, but says the rebels are now prepared to hand over their weapons to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, known as UNMIL.

"All of our fighters are ready for disarmament," said Mr. Wylie. "There are some people who have stacked up their arms in the bushes, ready to receive UNMIL."

In December, the U.N. mission attempted to begin the disarmament process, but its force of 5,000 was overwhelmed by fighters looking for money in exchange for their weapons.

There are now nearly 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia to carry out the disarmament process.