More than a dozen soldiers, who fought in the long-running Sudanese civil war, today handed over their weapons at the start of a United Nations-backed demobilization programme aimed at coaxing 180,000 ex-combatants back into civilian life.
The 15 soldiers involved in today's disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) ceremony in Ed Damazin were the first of around 5,000 former combatants from the Blue Nile State to participate in the UN campaign.
The DDR scheme is at the centre of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that in 2005 ended the 20-year-long north-south conflict, in which at least 2 million people were killed and some 4.5 million more were forced from their homes.
"This event marks the start of the largest DDR programme worldwide as well as a key milestone in the implementation of the CPA," said the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative Ameerah Haq, who is also UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Sudan.
Congratulating the Government of National Unity and the Government of South Sudan on the occasion, Ms. Haq expressed confidence that the North and South DDR Commissions have the determination to make the programme succeed despite problems in securing funding and in meeting the needs of ex-combatants in the south.
Ms. Haq called on donors to follow the example of Italy and Japan in providing finance for the programme, saying that "preparations are underway to start demobilisation in Southern Kordofan and we hope that we can build and sustain momentum in the programme."
During the demobilization process in Ed Damazin, ex-combatants from the north and south symbolically relinquished their weapons and in return received a DDR identification card, cash, non-food items and a coupon for food rations provided by the World Food Programme (WFP).