Friday, September 07, 2007

Sierra Leone's rivals shun peace rally amid safety concerns

A JOINT peace rally between the two candidates planned to ease tensions after clashes between rival supporters in recent weeks ahead of Sierra Leone's presidential run-off tomorrow has been called off.

Opposition candidate, Ernest Koroma, said he had concerns about the safety of the event, while Vice-President Solomon Berewa also refused to attend.

The two rivals agreed a peace deal last weekend, which was supposed to culminate in the joint rally, at which they would sit in the same vehicle, travelling around the streets of the capital, Freetown.

Spokesman for Koroma's All People's Congress (APC), Alpha Kanu, said opposition supporters were "being harassed and intimidated, so to get marching for peace is a really whitewash".

In the first round on August 11, Koroma took 44 per cent of the vote to Berewa's 38 per cent.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) has protested to the National Security Council Co-ordinating Group (NSCCG), after a member of the UN electoral assistant team in the country was attacked in the eastern part of the nation by supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).

The NSCCG, according to the Pan-African News Agency (PANA), blamed the ruling party supporters' action on some sections of the press.

"It is believed that this sort of incident is attributable in part to irresponsible reporting by some sections of the media.

"Such actions on UN electoral team workers put at risk the UN assistance to the electoral process, without which the electoral process will be much more difficult, and with potential to adversely affect its overall success", NSCCG said.

"The National Security Council Co-ordinating Group publicly condemns such actions throughout the country and called on all political parties to take firm responsibility for the actions of their supporters nationwide and urge that they desist from these irresponsible behaviours", it added.

A senior police official said that "the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) remain resolved to ensure the safety and security of all UN electoral team members and those of the National Electoral Commission, and will continue to uphold the due process of the law and take very strong measures against violators".

Meanwhile, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, has confirmed the severe beating of a Canadian journalist, Rob Mackie.

He said Mackie was interviewing Koroma and that of the newly registered People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), Charles Francis Marghai in Kenema, close to the headquarters of the SLPP on August 31, when he was physically assaulted by SLPP supporters.

His video camera was also destroyed in the process.

The journalist was later hospitalised at the Kenema Government Hospital for a night before he fled in the early hours of the following day.

His whereabouts is still unknown.

Guardian Newspapers