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Voters Disappointed in Sierra Leone Candidates' Absence From Peace March


The two candidates vying for the presidency in Sierra Leone's runoff on Saturday did not take part in a joint peace march as they said they would. The march, ordered by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, was supposed to be a symbol of the nation's unity and commitment against violence, following a pre-runoff period that saw clashes between the rival parties. Kari Barber has more for VOA from Freetown.

Dozens of vehicles filled with police, security personnel and civil society activists paraded through Freetown. They passed the headquarters of candidate Ernest Koroma's All People's Congress and that of Vice President Berewa's Sierra Leone People's Party.

But the candidates, for whom the march was arranged, were not present. Berewa did show up at the start, but was not part of the procession.

SLPP communications officer Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie says his party is disappointed that the rally, in which the two candidates were supposed to ride in a car together, did not happen as planned.

"To all of us it is a disappointment. It is a disappointment to the Sierra Leone People's Party, it is a disappointment to the Sierra Leone people," he said. "That move today would have ushered in a new era, an era where our party leaders come together and condemn violence and show it. Today should have been the show."

APC's Koroma announced he would boycott the peace rally because of what he says were violent acts against members of his party and a planned attack against himself by SLPP supporters.

Philip Conteh of the APC explains his party leader's decision.

"A week ago there was a very serious attack on the leadership and by now we should have expected a statement from the police on what they are going to do about that. There are so many other things that these people [SLPP] should have addressed, but failed to address," he said.

Conteh says the party does not believe the SLPP has met the conditions of the peace pact to correct the issues that led to the recent violent outbreaks between the parties, including what APC officials believe was an ambush planned against Koroma when he was traveling to the east to campaign.

Conteh says Koroma does want to bring peace to the war-ravaged country, but he does not think the SLPP's intentions are sincere.

"He is talking about objective peace. A peace that everybody means. Not a peace that you are giving peace in one hand and using a gun in the other hand," he added.

Civil society leaders say they are disappointed in the joint rally, which they say could have been a symbol that the country has moved forward from its violent past and the brutal civil war that ended five years ago, did not take place.

The two candidates had signed an agreement to hold the joint peace march after meeting with President Kabbah on Saturday and Sunday.

Neither candidate won the 55 percent of the vote needed to be elected in the first round.

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