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New Radio Network Launched in Congo - 2002-02-25

A new radio network has been launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in time to coincide with the start of talks aimed at ending the country's civil war.

Radio Okapi started broadcasting with correspondent reports from across the country.

The head of the station, David Smith, says it has done something that no other Congolese radio station has done in many years; it has reached all the people of the Congo. "Radio Okapi has radio stations on both sides of the frontline," said Mr. Smith. "So people in Goma are talking to Kinshasa, people in Kinshasa are talking to Kisangani for the first time in four years."

There are few politically independent broadcasters in Congo. Some parts of the state broadcasting station are controlled by the government, while others are controlled by the rebels.

Radio Okapi is the result of a partnership between the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) and Fondation Hirondelle, a Swiss aid agency. Many of the station's programs focus on peacemaking.

The station is named after the okapi, an endangered species that is similar to the giraffe but is only found in the Congo.

Mr. Smith says Radio Okapi will contribute to the peace process by helping Congo's warring parties understand each other. He says the station's goal is to deliver all the news, not to withhold anything. "By keeping information from people, by controlling information and not letting people in a certain area know what the needs, the desires, the concerns are of their compatriots in other parts of the country, it breeds ignorance, and ignorance tends to breed hate," he said. "If we do not understand each other, it is very difficult to work together."

One of the first goals of the station is to provide regular programs covering the inter-Congolese dialogue, the peace talks getting underway in Sun City, South Africa.

Members of the government of President Joseph Kabila, opposition groups, representatives of civil society, and rebel groups are expected to attend the talks. Congo's civil war began in 1998 when rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda invaded the country to topple the government of then-President Laurent Kabila.

Radio Okapi broadcasts from studios in U.N. military mission bases in the capital, Kinshasa, in the northeastern city of Kisangani and in the eastern city of Goma.

It is guaranteed freedom from censorship under agreements with the various authorities in the Congo.