* Authorities seek help from U.N. helicopters
* Results could take up to five days
(Adds U.N., observer comment)
By Richard Valdmanis and Saliou Samb
CONAKRY, Nov 8 (Reuters) - The outcome of Guinea’s landmark presidential vote could take five days to emerge, the national election body said on Monday, raising concerns the delay could fuel tensions among rival factions.
Sunday’s run-off poll completed the first free election in the West African state since independence from France in 1958 and is aimed at restoring civilian rule to a country rich in the aluminium ore bauxite and major iron reserves.
The vote passed peacefully but clashes in recent weeks between rival political groups, each closely attached to different ethnic groups, have prompted fears that there will be fresh trouble once a winner is declared.
“It will be up to five days,” Foumba Kourouma, a senior official for the national election commission told Reuters, citing delays in transporting ballots from rural polling stations over roads crumbling under years of neglect.
By law, authorities have 72 hours to declare preliminary election results, meaning they should be ready by Wednesday. Kourouma said the deployment of a U.N. helicopter would help speed the collection of voting papers.
A U.N. official based in Dakar told Reuters a helicopter from the U.N. Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) had been deployed to Guinea at CENI’s request, but declined immediate comment on the possibility of results being delayed.
“The longer the results are delayed, the greater the chances of rumours circulating. It is a concern,” said John Stremlau of the Carter Center, a U.S.-based human rights group observing the election on the ground.
The second round pits former prime minister Cellou Dallein Diallo against Alpha Conde, a veteran opposition leader who has not held elected office in any of the governments of the strongarm leaders who have ruled Guinea since independence.
Diallo is a member of the Peul community that makes up around 40 percent of the population while Conde is a Malinke, who account for around a third of the 10 million population. The two groups have a long history of rivalry and mutual mistrust.
While analysts have warned there is a chance of more ethnic violence if the results are challenged, the mood in the capital Conakry early on Monday was cautiously optimistic.
“I think that people now realise war is not good for Guinea,” said Bongourra Ousmane, a courier in Conakry’s waterfront neighbourhood of Sandervalia.
“I have my child here, my parents, my grandfather, and we want peace. We only hope we get a good president who can help this country get better.”
Election observers said that Sunday’s poll appeared to have had a high turnout and that there were, so far, only minor reports of logistical problems interfering with voting.
Stability in Guinea is vital to the security of the wider region, where neighbouring Ivory Coast is also finally going ahead with presidential elections aimed at properly unifying a country split apart by a 2002-2003 civil war.
Diallo took 43.69 percent in June’s first round, in theory making him the favourite in the run-off. Conde took just 18.25 percent but has complained that fraud undermined his score.
After complaints in the first round that some voters had to travel 20 miles (30 km) to vote, officials added new voting stations in regions including the Malinke stronghold of Haute-Guinee, which could bring a stronger turnout for Conde. (Writing by Mark John)