The United Nations is distributing voter and identity cards in the main cities of both the rebel-held north and Government-controlled south of Côte d’Ivoire this week as the country prepares to hold much-delayed elections to end the split caused by civil war in 2002.
At the same time, the first of 500 additional troops were due to land today to reinforce the 8,650-strong UN peacekeeping force in Côte d’Ivoire, known as UNOCI, and assist with security during the election period. The first round of voting is scheduled for 31 October, followed by a second round on 28 November if there is no clear winner.
“These Blue Helmets are among the 500 additional personnel that are to beef up UNOCI’s strength, in accordance with the Security Council’s decision,” spokesman Hamadoun Touré told the weekly news briefing in Yamoussoukro, the capital, of today’s arrival in the West African nation of 150 Senegalese soldiers, with a 150 more troops due in next week from Togo.
UNOCI was today distributing voter and identity cards in the Abidjan District, site of the main city in the world’s largest coca producer, and tomorrow will do likewise in Bouaké, the major town in the north, he said. The mission has been providing logistical and technical assistance for the polls, which were originally supposed to have been held as far back as 2005.
It is also ready to transport heavy material, mainly ballot boxes and voting booths, from bases in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro as of tomorrow.
Mr. Touré also announced a forthcoming seminar with international election observers, to be chaired by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Y. J. Choi, to provide an overview of UNOCI’s support of the process. The observers play a major role both in the conduct of the election and certification of the results.
The mission, set up in 2004 to monitor a ceasefire between the opposing sides and help bring stability, including holding elections, is pursuing initiatives across the country to promote a peaceful environment, holding ‘UNOCI Days’ in various towns with the participation of traditional chiefs, managers of private non-profit radios and other sectors.
Asked about allegations that UNOCI had failed to play its part in the distribution of voters’ and identity cards, Mr. Touré recalled that the mission had been entrusted with transporting election material and had therefore drawn up a transport and distribution plan comprising three cycles – heavy, sensitive and ultra-sensitive material. “UNOCI is always ready and no delay can be imputed to it,” he stressed.