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Sierra Leone: Voter Registration Begins for First  Post-Civil War Election - 2002-01-24

Voters in Sierra Leone are registering for the country's first presidential elections since the end of a 10-year civil war.

The voter registration process began just days after the government and rebels officially ended a war that killed tens-of-thousands of people and displaced hundreds-of-thousands more.

Teams from the country's National Election Commission aided by the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, have begun fanning out across the country to deliver voter registration forms and materials. They are going into areas that only recently came into government control as part of an eight-month disarmament process.

The National Electoral Commission's chief electoral commissioner, Walter Nicol, tells VOA one of the main challenges facing election organizers is getting materials to areas where the infrastructure has been destroyed by the war, or by neglect.

"The roads have been damaged, not only by the war but by the weather, also. The heavy rains. But we have been able to deliver the materials to almost all the areas. In certain areas, we were fortunate to have gotten some motorbikes and bicycles. We have used them. In other areas, in which we cannot use any of these means of transportation, we have asked for the assistance of UNAMSIL and we have been able to use their helicopters on one or two occasions," he said.

Observers in the capital, Freetown, have said turnout for registration was high in the early hours. There were some instances of confusion, with some people complaining that they had not been told where to go to register.

The registration process will continue through February 7. Elections are scheduled for May 14.

The presidential race will pit incumbent leader Ahmed Tejan Kabbah against the candidates of parties including the former rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front.

Analysts say the race, which is taking place amid a climate of economic uncertainty and massive unemployment, will serve as a test of whether peace has indeed come to Sierra Leone.