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  Sierra Leone needs urgent international help for vote

Freetown/Brussels, 19 December 2001: Significant strides in the peace process in the past few months have given the international community confidence that Sierra Leone has finally emerged from its decade-long civil war and can take the next step – presidential and parliamentary elections in May or June 2002. However it is too early to declare the danger over. The election is potentially a highly divisive event and without careful management and a leading international role, it could spark renewed violence.

Releasing a new briefing paper, "Sierra Leone: Ripe for Elections?" ICG Project Director, Dr. Comfort Ero said: “Donor countries see the elections as a major part of their exit strategy. Britain wants to scale down its military presence and the U.S. would like to see the UN mission, the largest and most costly peacekeeping operation in the world, reduced drastically.”

Civil society leaders in Sierra Leone want a legitimate government and most see no plausible alternative to holding early elections, but they express a range of concerns about the country’s readiness. There are serious doubts about the capacity, transparency and impartiality of the National Election Commission (NEC) and its proposed voting system. Even though the opposition forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are significantly weakened, security is a major concern. Police are already overstretched and may not be able to challenge organised intimidation and fraud. The UN Secretary General acknowledges that some important steps towards sustainable peace and development are lagging behind.

The international community has taken the view that Sierra Leone should run this election itself. But ICG Africa Program Co-Director Fabienne Hara said: “There is an urgent need for the international community to play a more hands-on – even directly intrusive - role than it has indicated it is willing to do, if the elections in late spring 2002 are to mark a decisive turn toward peace and reconstruction in this devastated country.”

Dr Ero added: “The real reason for donor reluctance to have the UN take over the election appears to be a desire to minimise the risk of too close an association with a process that many officials privately acknowledge will be far from perfect. But after the massive international investment made in Sierra Leone, the success of the election should not be left to chance.”


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