A durable peace for Liberia may finally be in sight as the Nigerian-led West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) collects weapons from more than 60,000 rebels - a move crucial to ending the seven-year-old civil war.
The voluntary disarmament began Friday with about 600 fighters turning in their weapons, and is expected to end Jan. 31 in preparation for May's general elections. Observers say the disarmament is a sign that an "African solution" to Liberia's lingering civil war is possible.
The war has killed more than 160,000 of the country's 2.5 million people, displaced more than 200,000 others, and sent nearly a million people fleeing to refugee camps in neighboring states. About 1 million Liberians are clustered at squalid camps near the capital, Monrovia, a city with scant electricity and an unemployment rate of more than 90 percent. The refugees are anxious to return to their homes, but are afraid to do so until the guns that have overtaken their villages, land, and lives are gone. "I will ... return home the day God helps them to disarm. It is only the guns that are keeping me here," says refugee Musa Dagoseh. Edwin Fahnbulleh, who lost his wife and children in an attack in 1990, says he is prepared to return to his northwestern hometown of Medina and forgive the combatants once they surrender their arms to ECOMOG. "Taking the guns from the fighters will afford us the opportunity to once again have peace, regain our freedom, and find food for ourselves," he says. …