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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 20:52 GMT 21:52 UK
S Leone foes 'compete as friends'
President Kabbah
Kabbah looks confident and relaxed
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By Mark Doyle
BBC West Africa correspondent
line
Ahead of presidential elections on 14 May, Mark Doyle keeps a diary from the campaign trail.

Day 5 - Eve of the election

Freetown was quiet on the eve of polling with dull sunshine bathing the hills that surround this coastal capital.

The various candidates have finished their campaigning and are gathering their strength to get the voters out on Tuesday.

I've managed to meet three of the candidates myself, starting with President Kabbah.

I caught up with "HE", as he is universally known by his officials, in the diamond mining town of Kenema, where he looked understandably tired after several days on the rural campaign trail, but also confident and relaxed.

His main message is that he has fulfilled a pledge made during the last presidential elections, in 1996, to bring peace to Sierra Leone and that, through judicious diplomacy, he has encouraged the British and the UN military here to build the post war Sierra Leone.

This message is largely true, because the rebels (now former rebels) were after all trying to overthrow an internationally elected government, and the British and the UN probably wouldn┐t have come to the aid of a leader who was less than a democrat.

This is a tricky message for the other candidates to counter because the British military presence is hugely popular among ordinary Sierra Leoneans and none of the candidates will openly oppose it.

'New face'

The candidate of the former ruling All People's Congress, Ernest Koroma, has a slightly nuanced position on this - saying that Sierra Leone has to work hard to avoid complete dependency on foreign soldiers and foreign aid workers.

Foday Sankoh
Many RUF members are waiting for the release of Foday Sankoh
President Kabbah counters strongly with: "Haven't you heard of the Marshall Plan for Europe after the Second World War? All countries emerging from war need aid, but this doesn't mean that we will remain dependent, not at all."

I met Mr Koroma at the offices of a businessman friend of his in the centre of Freetown, next to the huge and ancient Cotton Tree that dominates the town centre.

The smooth and smiling Mr Koroma concedes that he represents an old party which ruled as a single party state and which therefore has some detractors in Sierra Leone.

But he added that he was "a new face for a party that has been transformed, a party which wants to move Sierra Leone forward".

Waiting for 'the Lion'

The two main parties have specific regional support, with the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples┐ Party (SLPP) of President Kabbah having most support in the ethnic Mende south, while the APC has more support in the predominantly Temne north.

Election office in Freetown
Sierra Leone voters prepare to go to the polls
But politics in Sierra Leone is not as tribally influenced as in many African states.

During the war, for example, the splits between town and country, as well as between young and old, were at least as important as ethnic considerations.

The third presidential candidate I met was Pallo Bangura, the representative of the RUF Party.

He was holding court in a modest sitting room above a shop in downtown Freetown. He preached reconciliation and peace, saying the RUFP had "succeeded in bringing the concerns of the mass of poor Sierra Leoneans to the fore".

Mr Bangura has a particular problem with his candidacy because many members of the RUFP see him as an interim leader, pending what they hope will be the release of their historic chief, Foday Sankoh.

The fact that Mr Sankoh faces almost certain trial for war crimes by the UN Special Court, and seems most unlikely to be released, doesn't discourage the RUFP. Their favourite refrain is "The Lion will rise again", referring to the party symbol of the RUFP and nickname of Foday Sankoh.

On the eve of the vote, the Electoral Commissioner, Walter Nicol, said that with the help of the United Nations mission here, many of the logistical hurdles had been overcome.

He said he had been meeting regularly with the parties and that these political foes were nevertheless "entering these elections as friends".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The centre of Freetown was in chaos for hours"
See also:

11 May 02 | Africa
S Leone campaign ends in riots
28 Mar 02 | Africa
Sankoh barred from poll
13 Mar 02 | Africa
In pictures: Foday Sankoh emerges
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
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