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Sierra Leone/Election Observers - 2002-04-15

The European Union has sent a team of election observers to Sierra Leone, four weeks before the May 14th presidental and parliamentary elections.

The head of the team, E.U. Member of Parliament Johan Van Hecke, said in Freetown the observers will seek to conduct a comprehensive and national analysis of the electoral process. The goal, as he put it, is to be able to offer an impartial, balanced and well informed assessment of the election.

The second objective, according to Mr. Van Hecke, is to minimize instances of fraud, intimidation and violence, and to give confidence to contestants and voters to participate freely.

Mr. Van Hecke sought to assure Sierra Leoneons that the observer team is independent. He said it does not intend to preach democracy, but rather to learn from Sierra Leoneons and to exchange ideas and information concerning democracy and democratization.

The chief observer said after speaking to different political parties, he believes there is a real commitment to the electoral process. He noted that even if there were some complaints concerning the registration process, everybody seems to be committed to going forward.

Mr. Van Hecke was asked specifically if the observer team could be fair. He stressed that his country, Belgium, has no direct interests in Sierra Leone, and said therefore, it can be objective.