Sierra Leone begins return to democracy

Declan Walsh,In Freetown
Friday 25 January 2002 01:00

Voters in Sierra Leone were told to dip a thumb in permanent ink yesterday to register. But there was a problem when Ismail Daramy reached the top of the line. He has no hands.

Ismail was one of the first victims of butchery by the Revolutionary United Front in 1996. The rebels chopped off his hands with a machete. So, lifting a flip-flop on to the table, he held out a big toe for the electoral official.

"There is no forgiveness," he said, waving his fleshy stumps. "But I cannot have revenge. Now is the time for politics."

Just days after 45,000 fighters voluntarily destroyed their weapons ­ beating even the highest estimates ­ thousands of registration stations opened to prepare for UN-sponsored elections this May.

But there have been problems. In the centre of the capital, Freetown, only 21 voters had registered by lunchtime yesterday, although turn-outs were higher in suburban areas. And officials were unable to issue voting cards because they have not been trained to use a digital photography system.

At the Aberdeen Road camp for amputees in Freetown, several said they were supporting the incumbent, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "He worked hard to withdraw the weapons. He is a good man," said Alpha Kanu, who lost his daughter and a right arm to the rebels.

But it was too early for elections, he warned. "The guns are still hidden. I am sure there will be violence."

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