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Sierra Leone begins destroying stockpile of 'unuseable' arms
Freetown – Police and military arms experts in Sierra Leone began destroying nearly 5 000 "unserviceable weapons" on Saturday in an operation set to last two weeks.
Among the weapons were AK-47 and M16 assault rifles as well as light machine guns manufactured in Canada, technical field manager Ernest Woest told AFP. There were also home-made shotguns seized from rebels after Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war which ended in 2002, as well as arms surrendered under a government amnesty programme.
The operation began in two military depots in the capital Freetown on Saturday and will continue in four other towns over the coming fortnight.
Crowds stood watching at a distance as the weapons were put into specially-designed machines operated by a 10-man team, which literally shredded the guns into hundreds of pieces which will be buried in unmarked spots around the country.
"It's a relief to get rid of these weapons of death," said Lansana Turay, a local taxi driver who was looking on.
Launching the operation, Colonel Sahr Sineh, deputy head of the national commission on small arms (SLeNCSA) said "vast quantities" of arms had been assembled from around the country.
He said British charity Mines Advisory Group (MAG) had provided two South African arms experts to train the 10-man team of local personnel and would "leave behind all the equipment to enable them to carry out the work in the future".
But the operation drew criticism from some local hunters who said they were not informed their locally-produced weapons would be destroyed.
"We have not been treated fairly," said 56-year-old Moiwo Kallon from the southern town of Pujehun, who said the community had handed over their weapons three years ago and the authorities had pledged to return them.
"We have been asking the authorities to return them to us but they told us to wait... Even up to the point of the shredding exercise, they never informed us."
He said locals used the guns to scare off wild animals and protect crops such as cassava and rice from bush rats and birds. "Wild animals are constantly attacking our sheep and goats, and some people have been killed by lions and we cant do a thing," he sighed.