Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Peter faces ethnic conflict monitoring Balkan election

Peter Butcher, a former strategic director with Harborough District Council, jetted over to the Balkan republic on July 3 which has seen two-dozen violent incidents since the election campaign began on June 15.
The last elections five years ago saw conflict threatening to develop into civil war between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, who make up nearly a third of the population.
Mr Butcher (51), who worked at HDC for 30 years and oversaw many elections in the Harborough district, said: "In Macedonia's last elections there were hand grenades thrown at polling stations. When I was at Harborough, there was once a sheep in a polling booth, but never a hand grenade!
"Despite this, I feel comfortable with it. The safety of observers is absolutely first and foremost."
NATO and European Union officials have warned that free and fair elections are crucial to Macedonia being allowed to join the two organisations.
"We are provided with an interpreter and a driver, and will be dispatched to one of the regions. We will be there to make sure that people aren't intimidated when they go to vote and to make sure that everything is above board," Mr Butcher said.
The father-of-two secured his place as a monitor through his membership of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, which offered to provide observers for the Foreign Office.
Mr Butcher is one of 25 Britons making the trip who form part of the 250-strong party of observers.
NATO had to intervene in the country during 2001 to help prevent ethnic conflict developing into full-scale civil war.
Mr Butcher retired from HDC in February 2005 due to ill health and now runs his own local government consultancy company.

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