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Radio Okapi reporter threatened by armed forces officers; JED expresses concern for media workers as new fighting breaks out in the eastern region

(JED/IFEX) - JED is extremely concerned about the safety of Radio Okapi's Bunia correspondent Jean-Paul Basila, who has been the object of recent threats by officers with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). Bunia is located in the Ituri region, in the north east of the country, where the FARDC have been facing off with a new militant group in recent weeks. JED calls on the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC), which operates Radio Okapi, to do everything possible to protect Basila.

According to information obtained by JED, Basila is accused of "delivering news that is more militia propaganda and which humiliates the national army."

In his 6 October 2008 report to the MONUC, a copy of which was obtained by JED, Basila states that in a telephone conversation two days earlier with Captain Charles Boyeka, the FARDC's liaison officer in Bunia, he was told that operations staff at the FARDC offices in Bunia had "come to the conclusion that [he was] on the militants' payroll" and that "measures had been taken to shut [him] up."

The same day, at around 6:30 p.m. (local time), the journalist says that a FARDC logistics commander, known to him only as Major Jean-Jacques, repeated the similar threats in front of witnesses.

According to Basila, the threats came on the heels of a 3 October Radio Okapi report on the capture and subsequent loss by loyalist forces of the village of Kagaba, near Bunia. The following day, Radio Okapi news reported that the MONUC had provided logistic support to the FARDC in recapturing the village. The FARDC views the reports as militia propaganda.

In a separate incident in the Ituri district, in Orientale province, Kasereka Mawaya, a reporter with the privately-owned radio station Tempête du Lac, based in Kasenyi (approx. 55 km from Bunia), was held for five days at the local headquarters of the Agence Nationale des Renseignements (ANR), the state intelligence agency. He was released on 6 October. JED notes that threats to journalists in the region are on the rise since fighting broke out again between the FARDC and the local militia, known as the Front Populaire pour la Justice au Congo (FPJC).

According to information obtained by JED, the ANR took issue with a 29 September news broadcast on the BBC's Swahili Service, during which the reporter claimed to have seen a number of displaced people fleeing the fighting in nearby Walungu.

In light of the current hostilities in Orientale province, and especially in the district of Ituri, JED calls on the provincial authorities to ensure that all media workers in this part of the country may continue to carry out their work freely and without fear for their safety.

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