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The art of war

Artists at the Núcleo de Arte cooperative in Maputo, Mozambique turn weapons from the country's war-torn past into symbols of peace.

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When Gonçalo Mabunda was only 7, his favorite uncle let him play with his Army-issued AK-47 on a visit home from the front.

Weapons were not new to little Gonçalo; Mozambique had been torn by civil war for most of his young life. But this was the first time he touched a gun and, as it turned out, the last time he saw his uncle.

Twenty years later, Mr. Mabunda also spends his days working with the cold steel of deadly weaponry. But he is sculptor, not a soldier, and along with other artists at the Núcleo de Arte cooperative in Maputo, he is taking Mozambique's weapons of war and turning them into symbols of peace.

"At first, emotionally, it was very difficult," Mr. Mabunda says. "These weapons killed my family, my uncle. But we had a chance to make a message."

Almost no family was untouched by Mozambique's 16-year civil war. Five million people were displaced and an estimated 1.5 million killed in the brutal fighting between the country's Marxist government and foreign-backed rebels. Before that, the country suffered from 15 years of war during the fight for independence against Portugal.

In the past 10 years of peace, crops have begun growing again in fields once sown only with mines, and traffic bustles along roads once too dangerous to pass.

But despite the fading scars of war, an estimated 6 million to 7 million weapons are still believed to be buried in arms caches or hidden in homes.

The UN was charged with disarming both sides in the period following the 1992 peace accord, but many people held on to their weapons as insurance against future instability or out of fear that they would be held accountable for their actions during the war.

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