SUDANESE police arrested a man with 21 voter registration cards on the Yei-Juba Road on Friday but released him yesterday on grounds that he had not committed any offence.

Police here refused to release details of his identity.

However, an officer from the Juba Criminal Investigations Department disclosed that the cards belonged to secondary school students registered in a county called Lanya, some 75 kilometres from where he was arrested.

ďWhen we interrogated the suspect, he told us that the students had given him their voter registration cards for safe keeping, and that he was taking them back to them when he was arrested,Ē the officer said.

A check at the Juba Police Northern Division headquarters where he was held after his arrest revealed that the suspect had been released.

ďWe couldnít keep him here because we felt he had not committed any offence, so we released him. All I can tell you is that the suspect complained that during his arrest, officers stole 1,800 Sudanese pounds (almost 900 US dollars) and a video camera from him,ĒĒ he said.

Chairman of Central Equatorial State High Elections Committee, Alphayo Philip confirmed that they had received a report of the arrest and had managed to retrieve all 21 voter registration cards from police.

However, he was surprised to learn that police had released the suspect on grounds that he had not broken any laws.

ďI find the actions of the police and the security officials who let this happen very strange, but we will conduct our own investigations and get to the bottom of this. We want to know who this man is, who he is working with, how he got the registration cards and why he was keeping them for people who were far away from where he was,Ē Philip said.

Under Sudanís election laws, it is an offence for anyone to have voter registration cards that do not belong to them.

But local sources say that it is common for members of parliament to submit lists of people in their areas to the elections office to have them registered and to collect their votersí cards when they are ready.

ďOne of my colleagues travelled to his village on Wednesday to take about 600 votersí cards for people there. Meanwhile, when the registration exercise was taking place, he was in Uganda on duty, so how did he get the cards?Ē the source said.

The release of the man who is the first reported suspect in the crime of election fraud has led to finger pointing among the various parties contesting the poll about the credibility of the process.

The refusal by police and security officials to release his identity to the National Election Commission and to the High Election Committee in Central Equatorial State where Juba falls has led to speculation about who is working for.

Allegations of election fraud in Sudanís first multi-party polls in 24 years have gained momentum after the Sudan Peopleís Liberation Movement (SPLM) withdrew its candidate from the republican presidency, Yasir Armin from the race last week, claiming that the contest was flawed.

And the European Unionís High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton issued a carefully worded statement about what she expects to see in the election, emphasizing the rules by which the political players should play the game.

Her statement, which acknowledged the ďchallenging situationĒ in the run-up to the election, read in part: ďI expect that all the political parties, authorities and other stakeholders will conscientiously respect the Sudanese Electoral Law, the Code of Conduct and the Declaration of Common Commitments.Ē

By press time, Ashton could not be reached to comment on the first reported case of election fraud and the implications it will have on the electoral process in Southern Sudan.