Liberian government troops turn over AK-47s to U.N.

Monday, December 8, 2003

CAMP SCHIEFFELIN, Liberia -- Thrusting AK-47s in the air one last time, Liberia's fighters started surrendering weapons to U.N. peacekeepers, a major step toward ending 14 years of bloodshed and one of West Africa's most vicious conflicts.

The U.N.-supervised campaign to disarm 40,000 rebel and government troops nationwide opened with government troops lined up at an army barracks outside the capital, Monrovia.

One by one, 1,000-plus government and allied militia fighters -- among them boys at least as young as 12 -- handed automatic rifles to blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers from Bangladesh.

They then headed off in open trucks to disarmament camps, with sleeping mats and other belongings pinned under their elbows.

"I'm ready to disarm -- some of us have a future," 19-year-old soldier Papa Monger said amid cheering crowds of fighters.

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