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Rwanda's Private Radio Stations Back in Business - 2004-01-30


The Rwandan government has approved the establishment of seven private radio stations, the first time this has happened since radio stations were used to incite ethnic violence a decade ago.

As of Friday, at least five stations had already been allocated their frequencies. It should only be a short time before Rwandans will be able to tune into a variety of commercial and religious local stations.

The only radio station currently broadcasting is the government-run Radio Rwanda. The editor-in-chief of its Second Channel, Jean-Marie Vianney, says Rwandans are eagerly awaiting the new stations.

"Up to now, as they haven't started yet, we are just waiting," he said. "Everybody's curious to see how they are going to operate."

For many Rwandans, private radio stations are synonymous with the country's 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Radio stations were used to transmit propaganda about Tutsis, and were tools the Hutu extremists used to incite Hutus to kill Tutsis.

Last month, at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the founder and manager of one such station, Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines, Ferdinand Nahimana, was sentenced to life in prison for using the radio station to incite genocide. A colleague, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza was sentenced to 35 years.

But now the country appears to be giving the airwaves a second chance. Mr. Vianney of Radio Rwanda says the private stations could usher in a new era in Rwanda.

"It means democracy, freedom of expression," he said.

Since the genocide, Rwandans have only been able to listen to Radio Rwanda or international broadcasters.

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