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Monday, January 09, 2006 

Haiti blames election delays on UN, OAS

Jan 4, 2006: PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti's election officials have put the blame for the latest postponement of national election on the Organization of American States and the United Nations, accusing them of failing to distribute voter cards and set up polling stations.

Rosemond Pradel, secretary-general of the Provisional Electoral Council, said the OAS had not lived up to a commitment to distribute voter identification cards in time for a Jan. 8 election.
OAS and U.N. officials rejected the accusations.

Elections officials said on Friday they were delaying the vote but did not announce a new date.
"The OAS said voting card distribution would be completed by December 25th, but as of now not even half of the cards have been distributed," said Pradel in a weekend interview. "That's grave, that's very grave."

Haiti has been ruled by a US-backed interim government since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was pushed from office in February 2004. A UN peacekeeping force comprised of 9,000 soldiers and police has provide security for the troubled Caribbean country of 8.5 million people, which has been plagued by gang and political violence.

The transition government has struggled to organize a national election, which was initially scheduled for November but has been delayed several times by disorganization.

Election officials said the OAS was responsible for voter registration and for the distribution of voting cards, while the UN stabilization mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, was in charge of placing voting centers around the country and of logistics for the election.

"We are fed up with those foreigners who sit there spending money and not delivering," said Pradel. He said MINUSTAH refused to set up voting centers in sufficient numbers to increase accessibility.

He said the UN mission had offered assurances that Haitians would not have to walk more than two hours to reach voting centers. "Now we learned voters have to walk six, seven hours to reach a voting center in some areas," he said.

UN spokesman David Wimhurst rejected the allegations, saying MINUSTAH had carried out its responsibilities, which did not include deciding the location of voting stations.

"Our mission was to verify that the voting centers the electoral council had selected physically existed," Wimhurst said. "It had never been our job to determine the location of voting centers."
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said the OAS had guaranteed the voting cards would be distributed by Dec. 25.

"December 25th has come and gone, the cards are not there and now they said January 5th," Latortue said.

The head of the OAS mission in Haiti, Denneth Modeste, also rejected blame. OAS officials said they were ready to start distributing the cards on Sept. 25, when the first ones arrived from printers in Mexico, but election officials told them to hold off because polling stations had not yet been chosen.

Fewer than 2 million of 3.5 million registered voters have collected their voting cards, according to election officials.

"The cards are available in several hundred distribution centers around the country, people just have to go and collect them," said Modeste. He said his organization cannot be blamed if voters fail to collect the cards.

Election officials plan to complete preparations by Jan 28 and sources close to the council told Reuters the ballot could be set for Feb. 7. Latortue also suggested the same date.


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