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Ivory Coast Jamming UN Radio Peace Message - 2004-06-17

The United Nations mission in divided Ivory Coast is going ahead with plans to broadcast its message of peace and reconciliation on an FM radio, despite the government's decision to jam the signal. This is the latest in a series of clashes between the U.N. peacekeepers and the Ivorian government.

As it has done in neighboring Liberia, the United Nations in Ivory Coast plans to broadcast messages of peace and promote disarmament with its own radio station. Mission spokesman Jean Victor N'Kolo explains its purpose.

"The [Security Council] mandate is essentially meant to explain the peace process, and really contribute to national reconciliation, support DDR [disarmament, demobilization, reintegration] and just talk peace to Ivorians," he said.

The new radio station broadcast a test signal on Monday for several hours on the 95.3 FM frequency in Abidjan. All the listeners can hear now is the crackling sound.

Around-the-clock broadcasts were supposed to start this week in French and in several local languages with programs aimed at women, the young, former fighters and both city and rural populations.

The Ivorian communication agency says it interfered with the signal because it didn't authorize the U.N. to broadcast in the first place. In a written statement issued earlier this week, the government called it a pirate station, and said its operators face possible prosecution.

Mr. N'Kolo says he hopes the U.N. and the Ivorian government will come to some arrangement.

"I just do not see where the controversy lies since this was so clearly outlined in the Security Council resolution and this is actually something that goes without saying when a peacekeeping operation is set up," he said. "However, we understand the sensitivity. We are doing everything we can, the special representative of the Secretary General is talking to all who want to talk to him in order to explain again the legal basis as well as the legitimacy of the establishment of this radio."

He says it could be a while before what he calls the Voice of Peace makes it on the airwaves and expressed confidence it will happen, even if it's on another frequency.

Mr. N'kolo says the U.N. hopes to broadcast throughout the country, including the rebel-held north, which has been cut off from state Ivorian media.

The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast has been the target of several protests by the supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, demanding quick disarmament of the northern rebels. The U.N. angered the government when it blamed the highest authorities for the death of more than a hundred protesters in a brutal suppression of a pro-peace rally last March.

During one of the protests, a U.N. employee was injured and 30 U.N. vehicles were burned.