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Annan Urges Lawful Approach To Afghan Poll Dispute

Annan Urges Lawful Approach To Afghan Poll Dispute, Experts Named To Investigate

Secretary-General Kofi Annan today paid tribute to the Afghan people for their historic presidential election on Saturday and urged the parties to lawfully resolve their dispute over reported polling irregularities, as the United Nations named two experts to serve on a panel which will probe the complaints.

There was massive popular participation in the balloting, enthusiasm around the country, and safe conditions for voting, according to The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The Mission noted some problems involved in applying indelible ink to voters' fingers to prevent them from voting more than once, but said that by the late morning, the problem of how to ink voters' fingers had been addressed.

The UN-Afghan body charged with overseeing the country's electoral process (JEMB), said today that, after extended discussions yesterday, it had decided to set up a panel "to further enhance the transparency and legitimacy of the election."

Responding to a JEMB request for experts who could serve on an impartial panel, the UN nominated Craig Jenness, a former Canadian diplomat and experienced jurist, and Staffan Darnolf, a Swedish election administration expert. The European Union has been asked to help identify a third panellist.

The investigation panel will first examine any issue that would require a specific ballot box to be isolated from the counting process, which is expected to take several weeks, for further evaluation.

"This will allow the two exercises - counting and investigation - to proceed simultaneously," the JEMB said in its statement today.

The panel will supplement the work of the JEMB's own complaints and investigations unit, which is also examining Saturday's result. Presidential candidates have been given until tomorrow evening to submit their complaints.

Hailing Saturday's "enthusiastic" voter turnout, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged the presidential candidates and their supporters to use lawful measures to resolve their disputes about any electoral irregularities.

"That the election was held without major security incident is a tribute to the determination of the Afghan population," he said in a statement released by his spokesman.

The head of the support team for the election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Ambassador Robert Barry, told reporters yesterday that while there were some irregularities, any demand to nullify the election was unjustified.

"October 9 was a historic day in Afghanistan, and the millions who came to the polls clearly wanted to turn from the rule of the gun to the rule of the law. If their aspirations are to be met, disputes about the validity of election results should be dealt with as the law provides," he said.

Mr. Barry said one of the problems focused on the indelible ink, which was stamped on each voter's hand so that they could not vote more than once. In some cases the ink rubbed off, especially after people washed their hands vigorously.

"I don't know whether the problem was primarily using the wrong marker, although I know that in many cases that was the issue, because the markers in the kits looked very similar," he said. "But there were obviously other places where the bottles of ink supplied were dried out."

In some polling stations, Mr. Barry said, the agents of candidates or election personnel were observed coaching people about how they should vote. In other stations, candidate agents or election observers were barred from entering.

"Clearly that kind of incident should not happen. But again it's not unique that it happened here," he observed. "It happens in many countries, especially where polling station staff is not very well acquainted with the rules and regulations."

Saturday's election was the first of its kind in Afghanistan, which endured more than two decades of war and Taliban misrule until late 2001.

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