FARC rebels force radio station off the air

Bogotá, March 7, 2002—Leftist guerrillas forced a radio station to shut down after accusing it of serving government interests.

Onda Zero, based in the southern Colombian town of Acevedo, Huila Department, stopped broadcasting on the evening of February 28, when some 10 fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) threatened to blow up the station and then made off with a transmitter, antennas, and other equipment valued at US$12,500, said director José Vicente Rodríguez.

A journalist at the station, Divier Alexander López, fled the region the next day in fear of his life. Neither he nor anyone else at the station had previously been threatened.

“They argued that they were taking us out because we were working for the government,” said Rodríguez. “I don’t know what reasons they have for saying that.”

The radio station is located near the border of the Switzerland-sized safe haven that the Colombian government ceded to the FARC in 1998. On February 20, the government ended peace talks with the FARC and launched a military operation to retake the safe haven.

In the weeks since negotiations collapsed, the FARC has blown up electrical towers in Huila Department as part of a wider war against the nation’s infrastructure. The 38-year civil conflict pits leftist rebels against the government and right-wing paramilitary forces.

Rodríguez denied FARC accusations that Onda Zero, which employs eight people, was working for the government. The station serves nine townships and began broadcasting 11 years ago. Seventy percent of its 16 hours of daily programming is popular music. The balance is devoted to educational programs, said sources at the station.

Rodríguez said he would raise money to buy new equipment if the rebels refuse to return the transmitter and other equipment.