Sunday, July 22, 2007

Police, observers deploy in Sierra Leone ahead of vote

Police and poll observers Friday began deploying across the west African nation of Sierra Leone after violence marred the start of campaigning for the country's second post-war polls.

Police spokesman Ibrahim Samura said the first batch of paramilitary police had fanned out across the country's southeast where inter-party clashes broke out last week as campaigning was launched.

"They will maintain security in conflict-oriented areas during the electioneering process," he told AFP.

Analysts fear that reports of violence in the first week of Sierra Leone's electoral campaign could undermine the nation's chances of definitively turning its back on a brutal 10-year conflict which was officially declared ended in 2001.

The diamond-rich west African country, ravaged by a decade of one of the most brutal civil wars in modern history, is holding presidential and legislative elections on August 11.

The first elections after the end of the war in 2001 went off peacefully and were seen as a litmus test for a country, where some 120,000 people died and tens of thousands were mutilated or had their limbs amputated in the conflict.

A first group of 28 of the total 77 European Union observers Friday started deploying across interior Sierra Leone, the EU mission said.

"The observers will remain in their fields of operations until after the elections and observe the post-election process," a statement said.

Observers from the United States and west African regional blocs will also monitor the polls.

Sierra Leone's national electoral commission (NEC) meanwhile said it had dismissed 54 complaints raised over the eligibility of some of the 566 parliamentary candidates.

NEC's elections officer Momoh Kanneh said after "thorough investigations" the objections were thrown out because they lacked "concrete" evidence.

There are no objections entered against the seven presidential contenders.