EU teams to oversee SLeone poll

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Brussels - A team of EU observers has flown into Sierra Leone's capital Freetown to monitor upcoming elections, whose success is viewed as crucial to recovery in the nation scarred by civil war.

The presidential, parliamentary and local council elections on Nov. 17 will be the third since war ended 10 years ago.

The 1991-2002 civil war killed 50,000 people, maimed many more and ruined the country's infrastructure. Production from vast deposits of iron ore and other minerals ground to a halt.

At the invitation of Sierra Leone's authorities, Richard Howitt, Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission, arrived in Freetown on Wednesday, joining a team of six EU analysts who flew in last week.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said in a statement the elections were “very significant for the stability and the democratic development of the country”.

“I hope that all state institutions will prove that they have the capacity to organise credible and transparent elections,” she added.

Politics in Sierra Leone traditionally is conducted along ethnic lines, with the ruling All People's Congress party taking support from the Temne and Limba tribes of the north while the Sierra Leone People's Party, the main opposition, is rooted in the Mende of the south and east.

Earlier this week Sierra Leone's president named his scandal-hit vice president as his running mate. The vice president has denied any involvement in alleged corruption.

Non-governmental organisations have said that without international oversight, the election process would be unpredictable and violence and political instability could ensure.

Ashton said the EU election team should “strengthen citizens' confidence”.

In the coming days and weeks, the core team will be joined by 28 long-term observers and 50 short-term observers from the 27 EU member states, as well as Norway.

In addition, a delegation from the European Parliament will travel to Sierra Leone shortly before election day. - Reuters

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