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Intentionally-set fire destroys Radio Activa facilities in El Bolsón

(FOPEA /IFEX) - An intentionally-set fire completely destroyed the facilities of FM Radio Activa, in El Bolsón, Río Negro province, located on the border with Chile. The incident took place on 1 June 2009 around 10:30 p.m. (local time), half an hour after the last employee, an operator, had left the station.

The El Bolsón public prosecutor, Francisco Arrien, told FOPEA that the first indicators seem to point to the fire having been set intentionally, based on reports from the firefighters and police working at the scene. The fire started in a wooden part of the station's exterior where there were no flammable items or electrical wiring. In addition, it has been determined that a window was intentionally broken and highly flammable materials were thrown into the offices, causing the complete destruction of the station. A firefighter was also injured when a gas cylinder exploded during the fire. Arrien added that the greatest difficulty now will be in identifying who was responsible for the fire as there were no witnesses because it was started in the middle of the night and at the back of the station, which is not highly visible.

The station's director, Reynaldo Rodríguez, who is also the president of the El Bolsón Aeroclub, told FOPEA that he thinks the fire was set by someone connected to the local municipality because of the strong public stance he has taken against a municipal project to close the local airport and move it to another site, using the current 70-hectare site for a real estate deal.

The mayor, Oscar Romera, told FOPEA that he had nothing to do with the fire and said "Rodríguez is smart enough to know that I will not ignore this accusation. He can't hope that I won't bring legal action against him". He says that, even still, he has not had a falling out with Rodríguez and that he has contacted him to offer his support.

Rodríguez said that he is hoping to resume the station's broadcasts this week using low power equipment. "Anyone who thinks he can shut me up by doing this is not smart because we will return to the airwaves as soon as possible and stronger than ever," he added. He also explained that this was the first attack on the station and that they had not received any previous threats, but that he knows of private advertisers than have been pressured not to advertise with the station.

The radio station's case is being handled by Trial Court No. 4 in San Carlos de Bariloche, presided over by Judge Ricardo Calcagno.

FOPEA is concerned about the attack on FM Radio Activa because it threatens the media's freedom of expression and the El Bolsón and neighboring communities' access to information. The organisation is calling on the Río Negro judiciary to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the fire.

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