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Burundi Closes Second Radio Station in a Week - 2003-09-18

Critics have lashed out at the Burundi government's closure of African Public Radio, the second radio station it closed in a week.

African Public Radio's chief editor, Emmanuel Nsabimana, said the government should not have shut down the station's operations earlier this week. "We are not ready to accept it," he said. "We are committed to continue fighting for the freedom of the press. We hope the government will very soon lift this decision."

Mr. Nsabimana said personnel from both African Public Radio and Radio Isanganiro are in the process of meeting with government officials to resolve the conflict. The government ordered a one-week closure of Radio Isanganiro last Saturday.

Minister of Information Albert Mbonerane told VOA the government issued an order last year banning the news media from interviewing the country's rebels, particularly those belonging to the National Liberation Forces. He said both radio stations defied the order by airing comments from rebel leaders.

Mr. Mbonerane said the government issued the ban for security reasons and not to jeopardize on-going peace negotiations with the some rebel groups. He said the National Liberation Forces have refused to negotiate with the government.

The closure of African Public Radio was triggered by comments that National Liberation Forces leader Pasteur Habimana had made in a call-in talk show concerning the recent failed peace talks in Tanzania.

Mr. Habimana denied allegations that his comments incited the population to violence. Mr. Habimana said his group is committed to peace. He said he told the radio interviewers he wants Hutus and Tutsis to live together as brothers.

His group has played a major role in Burundi's civil war, in which an estimated 300,000 people have been killed, and it has refused to join other rebel groups in the peace talks with the government.

The war was sparked 10 years ago by a conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. A round of peace talks between the government and the country's main rebel group ended recently in Tanzania without a peace agreement.

African Public Radio's chief editor Mr. Nsabimana says he believes the controversy over the stations's coverage will be cleared up soon.