'Voters are more afraid of Nov. 1 than Oct. 31'
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As Ivorians vote in Sunday’s much-awaited, much-postponed presidential poll, the UN has increased its troop presence in three areas of Ivory Coast. Its objective: to reassure voters who fear an outbreak of violence following the poll.
, special correspondent in Abidjan
Established in 2004 to ensure the implementation of cease-fire accords, the United Nations Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) has seen its peacekeeping mission extended year after year as the presidential poll was postponed six times in the last five years. D-Day is finally here and as a nervous international community watches the historic vote, UNOCI’s 17,000-strong force is hard at work.
In an interview with France24.com, UNOCI spokesman Hamadoun Toure looks back at what the mission has accomplished in the past six years and, more importantly, the challenges facing the mission during and after the vote.
FRANCE 24: What does this Oct. 31 election date mean for the ONUCI?
Hamadoun Toure: Tomorrow’s first round of the presidential election is above all a historic event for the Ivoirian people, who have waited for this moment since 2005. It is also a historic moment for us, because this election is the culmination of the partnership forged between the Ivorian government and the international community. As in any partnership, there may have been misunderstandings, confusion, but since the peace agreement was signed in Ouagadougou in March 2007, many positive things have been achieved.
[But] the presidential election is but one step in the process of putting an end to the crisis. The process to reunify the country comes next. We will take part in the redeployment of government administrators in the north and in the process of disarming former rebels and militias. Nearly 5,000 former insurgents are to be trained and integrated into the ranks of the regular army. Finally, we will be present for the organisation of parliamentary elections next spring. After that date, our presence in Ivory Coast depends on the will of the UN Security Council and the elected president.
FRANCE 24: On the eve of the first round of the presidential election, can we say that all logistical obstacles to voting have been removed?
H. D.: All our work ahead of the polls, combined with the presence of national and international election observers, should ensure a credible election day. During the process of voter registration, we ensured that identity cards were perfectly assembled. Over the past month, we delivered 11.5 million of them to every local election commission. At the close of polls, we will carry the results from polling stations to [the Ivorian economic capital of] Abidjan. Everything was done to minimise, if not eliminate, fraud.
FRANCE 24: So why do many Ivorians still express doubt over the transparency of the vote?
H. D.: Ivorians are still reeling from their country’s political crisis. In a country that has lived through ten difficult years, there is a real lack of certainty. One of the UNOCI’s responsibilities is to reassure the Ivorian people, who in fact are more fearful of November 1 than October 31.
FRANCE 24: Have you adopted measures to tackle any post-election violence should it occur?
H. D.: On Friday, we increased the number of patrols in three sensitive areas of the country: in Abidjan, which alone accounts for more than a third of the country's electorate, in the northern areas of Korhogo and Bouake, which are the former rebel strongholds, and in the western triangle of Guiglo-Duekoue-Toulepleu. But for now, we are optimistic. The successful completion of the election campaigns has dispelled our fears. On Friday, each of the main candidates was able to hold his rally in Abidjan with no incidents to report.