Government bans radio interviews with rebels

New York, March 7, 2003—Burundian president Pierre Buyoya has ordered the country’s private radio stations not to broadcast interviews with or statements from two rebel groups who have continued to fight the government amid negotiations to end the country’s 9-year-old civil war.

On March 4, Buyoya called the editors of Burundi’s leading radio stations—including the private African Public Radio, Radio Bonesha, and Radio Isanganiro—to his office and told them they were forbidden to broadcast interviews with or paraphrase statements from members of the National Liberation Force (FNL) and the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD). According to the Associated Press, the stations later aired news of the order, even though Buyoya told the editors not to report on the ban.

The FNL is the only major ethnic Hutu rebel group that has not signed a cease-fire accord with Buyoya’s transitional government, which was inaugurated in November 2001. Though the FDD signed a peace agreement with the government in December 2002, fighting between FDD forces and the army has continued.

According to Umuco, a local private Internet news service, Buyoya acknowledged that the ban was “unfortunate” but said that it was unacceptable for rebels who continue to kill to have access to the airwaves. Buyoya asked that the new measure be observed until a definitive cease-fire accord is signed. The government usually allows interviews with members of groups that have signed peace agreements, local sources told CPJ.

It is unclear what sanctions the stations that violate the ban will face. Journalists in the capital, Bujumbura, say the order violates press freedom and will be an obstacle to peace because it prevents citizens from hearing the perspectives of the different parties in the conflict.