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#2642: OAS Hopeful As It Starts Observing Haiti's Vote (fwd)


Wednesday March 1 5:03 PM ET 
 OAS Hopeful As It Starts Observing Haiti's Vote

 PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The head of an international election
observer mission in Haiti said on Wednesday that he was concerned about
the country's troubled electoral process but still optimistic that the
vote would take place in the coming weeks. Haiti's efforts to organize
its first elections in nearly three years and to register some 4 million
voters have been marred by theft of election materials and insufficient
voter registration offices. ``In this field, you have to be optimistic.
>From what we see, there is no reason to think there won't be elections
 (on March 19),'' said Orlando Marville, chief of the Organization of
American States mission. But Marville added that the OAS was concerned
about widespread problems as the poor Caribbean nation prepared for the
legislative, municipal and local elections scheduled for March 19 and
April 30. ``Whatever doesn't work well concerns us,'' said Marville, a
Barbadian, speaking at a news conference to present the first group of
some 90 OAS observers expected to oversee the elections. There have been
almost daily protests in the past month by Haitians demanding more voter
registration offices and materials.

 Film In Short Supply

 Registration offices across the country have shut down because of lack
of materials such as film needed to make the voter identity cards.
Grass-roots and political groups close to former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide have increasingly called for electoral officials to postpone
the elections to allow more time for voters to register. The OAS mission
will number at least 90 observers from the United States, Canada,
Britain, Japan, Norway and other countries, to be deployed in six
offices nationwide. Before and during the election, observers will be
dispersed throughout the country monitoring voting and vote counting.
 The mission will supervise the work of other international observers,
such as a 26-member team from the Caribbean trade group CARICOM,
Marville said. The Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, Haiti has
struggled to shake off decades of dictatorship since 20,000
 U.S.-led troops ousted a military regime in 1994 and restored Aristide,
its first freely elected president, to power. When Aristide's term ended
in 1996, he handed power to his protege, President Rene Preval. Preval's
term has been scarred by a government crisis since a 1997 legislative
election that was declared fraudulent by international observers.
 Preval shut down parliament 13 months ago and has been ruling by
decree. The coming elections are expected to fill two-thirds of the
Senate and the entire Chamber of Deputies, which together make up
Haiti's parliament.