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UN Ivory Coast Radio Opens to Mixed Reviews - 2004-08-13

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in divided Ivory Coast finally started a new radio station Friday to promote peace after months of repeated delays in getting on the air.

A promotional song for the new U.N. radio, known as ONUCI FM "the frequency of peace" lists all the Ivorian cities it hopes to broadcast to, from southern Gagnoa, in the cocoa heartland where President Laurent Gbagbo is popular, to northern rebel-held Korhogo, where mass graves were recently found.

The chief deputy at the U.N. mission, Alan Doss, explains the importance of launching the new radio.

"Wherever we have these missions now, we've found it necessary to have a U.N. voice," said Mr. Doss. "The U.N. voice will be an independent voice, I hope an objective voice, interested only in the facts. We have only one ambition in Cote d'Ivoire, and that is to help the country return to peace and prosperity."

At a launching ceremony earlier this week, the radio's director, Sputnik Kilambi, stressed she is the only non-Ivorian on staff.

"It's a radio by Ivorians for Ivorians, to be able to communicate with each other, to dialogue with each other, so the north can be heard in the south, and vice versa," said Mr. Kilambi. "This radio is not here to compete with other radios. It's not here to attack any particular group."

Expectations of the radio in Abidjan, though, are mixed.

At a public speaking space, known as the Sorbonne, many supporters of President Gbagbo fear the U.N. radio station will just bolster rebels. They say U.N. peacekeepers have been here several months already, and there has been no progress in disarming rebels.

One of them, Florent Kaza, said that he does not believe views presented on the U.N. radio will be balanced. He says the radio will be a threat, as well, because, unlike state radio and television, now cut off in the rebel-held north, the U.N. radio plans to broadcast throughout Ivory Coast.

An accountant in downtown Abidjan, Philippe Kouakou disagrees, saying the U.N. radio could bridge gaps between rebel supporters and those who back President Gbagbo.

"Peace is very difficult to get," he said. "So, I think that with this radio, the United Nations will be able to take a certain number of actions. For example, people will be able to meet, because we know that in Cote d'Ivoire, there is a gap today with the population. We also know that with this radio, ONUCI will be able to cover all Cote d'Ivoire, and I think this can be a factor of reconciliation."

The U.N. radio was delayed for months because it needed to get approval from all the necessary Ivorian government agencies, and then it needed to be loaned a frequency from state radio. Its charter says it will present all views, through news and talk shows, but that it will not allow hate speech.

On its first day on the air, U.N. radio played mostly music. Most of the songs seemed to have a message of peace.