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UN: Disarmament Campaign in Liberia Off to Slow Start - 2004-04-22

The United Nations is reporting that only half of the combatants participating in the disarmament campaign in Liberia are handing in weapons. This is renewing fears that rebel leaders have collected guns to be shipped to other West African nations.

In the first six days of the relaunched disarmament campaign in Liberia, nearly 1,800 former combatants from the rebel groups, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, MODEL, were disarmed. But according to the United Nations, less than 800 weapons had been collected.

The international community has expressed concern that the weapons that are not being handed in by the combatants are being shipped back to home countries, which could lead to further instability in the region.

The weapons collected during the disarmament campaign are to be destroyed.

The director of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation, Moses Jarbo, says the combatants must have weapons or ammunition in order to participate in the program.

"They must have weapons, and some of those who do not have weapons, they will be identified by their commander that they are part of their organization, and they must have at least some ammunition," he said.

Mr. Jarbo says the process is going smoothly, especially with MODEL combatants in the coastal city of Buchanan. He says the MODEL organization is much smaller than LURD, and the commanders have been available to assist with identifying the combatants.

One of the commanders with MODEL, General Boi Blehju Boi, says he was the first to hand over his weapon in Buchanan. He also strongly denies rumors that MODEL fighters were supported by the government in Ivory Coast.

"The Ivorian government and the president of Ivory Coast has his own problems," he said. "We have no connection with the Ivorians, neither have we any contact or relation with the government of that place. MODEL was organized by Liberians and headed by Liberians and operated by Liberians."

General Boi concedes that some of the combatants in MODEL are from Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. He says they were displaced by civil wars in those countries, and joined the already established MODEL movement.