Former gunmen surrender arms, return to civilian life
Kabul, April 18, 2006 (IRIN) - Three former militia commanders in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar have voluntarily surrendered around 90 light and heavy weapons to the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) programme, officials from the UN-backed initiative said on Tuesday in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
"Commanders from Nangarhar â€“ Mohammad Zahir, Hamesha Gul, and Hazrat Khan, - surrendered 45,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as 85 light and heavy weapons, including mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to the DIAG weapons collection team in Nangarhar province," Ahmad Jan Nawzadi, public information officer at the DIAG programme, explained.
"Many of the collected arms and ammunition were functioning and would soon be delivered to Afghan security forces in Kabul," Nawzadi added.
Following the disarmament of Afghan militia forces under the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme for ex-combatants completed in late June, the Afghan government and the UN are now focusing on the DIAG initiative.
More than 60,000 former combatants had been disarmed under the DDR initiative, which took the international community almost 20 months and more than US $150 million to complete. In addition to the decommissioning of ex-combatants, about 35,000 light and medium weapons and 11,004 heavy arms were collected across the country.
The Afghanistan Compact, a multi-billion dollar UN-backed blueprint for continued international engagement over the next five years and agreed upon in February, commits the war-ravaged country to disbanding all illegal armed groups by the end of next year.
"Over the coming weeks you will be seeing and hearing much more about the disbanding of illegal armed groups programme from the government and its international partners," Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told reporters in Kabul in March.
The three former commanders, whose units were decommissioned as part of the DDR process, also received appreciation certificates signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to DIAG officials.
Nawzadi has requested all commanders still holding stocks of weapons and leading private militias to comply with the law regulating the possession of weapons in Afghanistan.
"We call on all illegal armed groups across the country to voluntarily surrender their weapons and support a process intending to consolidate peace and stability in our country," Nawzadi said.
But the challenge of collecting weapons in a country scarred by over two decades of conflict and internal strife is far from over. There are between 1,800 and 2,000 illegal armed groups still threatening fragile stability across the country, according to DIAG.
Financed by the Japanese government and overseen by the United Nations, DIAG is run by the Afghan interior and defence ministries, along with the national security agency.
The DIAG process, launched in June 2005, has led to the removal of over 20,425 weapons, as well as more than 148,000 rounds of ammunition from across Afghanistan.