UN officials hail enthusiastic participation in landmark Sierra Leone ballot

UN officials hail enthusiastic participation in landmark Sierra Leone ballot

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In the wake of yesterday’s landmark presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone, senior United Nations officials today hailed the West African nation for the exceptionally high voter turnout and the tranquil manner in which ballots were cast.

"Their peaceful and enthusiastic participation in the elections is an eloquent testimony to Sierra Leoneans' determination to turn a page on their tragic past," said Secretary-General Kofi Annan, adding that the elections were "also a major step on the road to lasting, sustainable peace."

In a statement released by his spokesman in New York, the Secretary-General appealed "for continued calm and restraint as the election results are collated and announced." He also urged political leaders and their followers "to be magnanimous in both victory and defeat."

Following the elections, Mr. Annan said, the country's pressing reconstruction and national reconciliation needs would be the next challenge for the Sierra Leonean people and the international community. "Extending State authority throughout the country, restoring Government control over natural resources, reintegrating ex-combatants and resettling returning populations, will require sustained determination, encouragement and support," he added.

For his part, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, said in a press statement that Council members were very happy that the elections had gone off well. The members of the Council also noted the positive contribution made by various parties including UNAMSIL, the UN mission in the country, as well as the United Kingdom and others, to bring about successful elections.

Briefing reporters at UN Headquarters, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said "the fact that [the elections] went without any major glitch, without any security problems is a major testimony to the political will of the Sierra Leonean people to move forward towards peace and to build a foundation for peace."

Behind what had happened on election day were two years of very hard work, Mr. Guéhenno added. Some 17,500 troops had been deployed, he noted, which demonstrated that when adequate resources were put in place, a peace mission could achieve the desired results.

Meanwhile, in Freetown yesterday, Oluyemi Adeniji, the head of UNAMSIL, told a press conference following the closure of the polls that the comportment of the voters had been "exemplary" in practically every place he and his deputies had visited throughout the day.

Commenting on UNAMSIL's role in providing logistical support to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), as mandated by the UN Security Council, he confirmed that "all the materials were in place by the time people started voting," adding that even in some inaccessible places, UNAMSIL helicopters were still delivering materials well into the evening before the elections.

Mr. Adeniji said that he was hopeful that political parties would abide by the code of conduct they signed and a declaration they made with the NEC on Saturday, 12 May. "We are expecting that as just as the election has been free of violence, so will the aftermath of the election when the results are announced," he said.