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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

GUINEA-BISSAU: UN doubts ability to hold elections in July

ABIDJAN, 13 June 2003 (IRIN) - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has cast doubt on Guinea-Bissau's ability to hold credible parliamentary elections next month, remarking that the small West African country "has embarked on a downward course" following its return to democracy three years ago.

Annan said in his latest three-monthly report on the situation in the former Portuguese colony that the United Nations could reconsider its support for the planned vote if it concluded that "conditions are not conducive for free, fair and credible elections."

President Kumba Yala disolved parliament in November last year and has twice delayed the holding of fresh elections which are currently scheduled for 6 July.

However, the UN Secretary-General said in his report, which was published on Thursday, that preparations for the election had been "extremely slow". He noted that although the UN Development Programme provided a US $500,000 grant to finance the cost updating the electoral register, very little had been done to get the process under way.

"The situation in Guinea-Bissau has worsened," Annan said in his report to the UN Security Council. "There is now a consensus that Guinea-Bissau, which had seemed so promising following the end of the 1998/99 conflict and the holding of free and fair elections, is now once more embarked on a downward course."

The Secretary-General said he had dispatched a fresh mission to Guinea-Bissau to review UN support for the electoral process.

Noting a "general deterioration in the political climate," his report pointed out that the army was owed five months of pay arrears and that Yala had arrested his defence minister on April 30 on charges of plotting a coup. The government owed US $11 million of unpaid wages to civil servants, who had resorted to frequent strikes, it added.

The report stated that on some occasions the cash-strapped government had restored to paying its employees in bags of rice instead of money. Since Guinea-Bissau belongs to the Monetary Union of West Africa which uses the CFA franc as its common currency, the government is unable to print more banknotes if it has insufficient funds available.

Opposition parties and western donors have protested for several weeks that it would be impossible to hold free and fair elections on 6 July, pointing out that the vote registration process would take at least two months and has not yet begun. The polls were originally scheduled for 23 February and were then delayed until 23 April before being put back again.

President Yala was elected in November 1999 following a year-long civil war which ended Guinea-Bissau's first experiment with multi-party democracy. He began his five-year term in February 2000.

Guinea-Bissau relies on subsistence agriculture and exports of fish and cashew nuts, but is dependent on donations of rice from the World Food Programme to help feed its 1.3 million population.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance



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