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Belgian journalist, interpreter and driver held by militia; radio station pillaged, two journalists missing

(JED/IFEX) - JED expresses serious concern for the safety of journalists and media personnel, both Congolese and foreign, caught in the crossfire between the National Congress for the Defence of the People (Congrès national pour la défense du peuple, CNDP) of deposed general Laurent Nkunda and the Maï Maï militias of the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (Patriotes résistants congolais, PARECO) in Rutshuru, 70 km from Goma, the capital of North-Kivu province in eastern DRC.

Since the renewal of hostilities at the beginning of the week, journalists and media outlets have been the object of targeted attacks by the belligerents. On 4 November 2008, Thomas Scheen, a Belgian journalist and the Africa correspondent for the German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", his Congolese interpreter Charles Ntiricya and their driver were abducted in Rutshuru by PARECO's Maï Maï forces, who are still holding them. The three individuals are reportedly held in Mabenga in Virunga National Park. Contacted by a JED correspondent in Goma, PARECO's leader, Sendugu Museveni, said his movement "demands that CNDP troops evacuate the town of Kiwanja before releasing the three people."

Meanwhile, Ushirika community radio (Radio Communautaire Ushirika, RACOU), the only radio station in Kiwanja, was pillaged by CNDP forces. Two journalists working for the station, Faustin Tawite and Bitwahiki Nzonzo, respectively editor-in-chief and presenter of the news in the local language, have not been seen or heard from since. Nzonzo's home was burned down by PARECO's Maï Maï forces.

JED is concerned about the situation of all journalists who have fled, about whom there has been no news, and demands that PARECO immediately and unconditionally release Scheen, Ntiricya and their driver. JED urges the parties involved in the conflict that plagues this part of the DRC to do nothing that could put in danger the lives of journalists and media personnel. It also asks the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to use all the means at its disposal to ensure the safety of media professionals carrying out their duties.

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