MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberia's (search) three former warring factions jointly announced they had disarmed and disbanded their forces, marking a milestone in a quest for peace in this battered West African nation after nearly 15 years of war.
The declaration Wednesday came just three days after a nationwide program to disarm ex-combatants officially ended with about 100,000 fighters laying down their arms, United Nations (search) officials said.
The disbanded warring parties included the country's two main rebel groups, as well as fighters and former army commanders once loyal to ex-President Charles Taylor (search), who was forced to accept a peace deal in August 2003 that exiled him to Nigeria as rebels bore down on the capital.
Liberia has been mostly quiet since then, although deadly riots erupted in the capital on Friday, killing 16 and injuring 208 others, according to the United Nations.
All three groups signed a declaration Wednesday saying their forces and military commands had been disbanded and disarmed. The declaration also said all their weapons had been handed over to the United Nations, which has about 15,000 peacekeepers stationed in the country.
"Today we have freed Liberia. We have fought a good fight," Sekou Conneh, who headed the main Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy rebel group, told a crowd to thunderous applause. "It is now time to join hands to cover up for all the years we have wasted."
Conneh said his movement was now dissolved and would be transformed into a foundation to address the welfare of former fighters.
Thomas Yaya Nimely, representative of the smaller rebel Movement for Democracy in Liberia, said his own group was also disbanded.
Neither rebel movement will become a political party.
Lewis Brown, a former foreign minister who once served under Taylor, signed the declaration on behalf of former army soldiers. He said the day's events were "just a beginning" of efforts to make Liberia a peaceful country.
"And as we move forward, let us recognize that we are all partners in this business," he said. "We are former warring party leaders, but we are Liberians."
Liberia is struggling to recover from an era of fighting that began in 1989. The conflict claimed at least 150,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Taylor's departure last year paved the way for a transitional government that gave top rebel officials ministerial posts.
Peacekeepers are deployed in the country to provide security, and the new government is to hold elections in October 2005.