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MILITARY SILENCES MEDIA FOLLOWING MURDERS OF PRESIDENT AND ARMY HEAD

Privately-owned radio stations in the tiny west African country Guinea-Bissau were ordered to stop broadcasting following the assassination of the President and the army's Chief of Staff, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Army Chief of Staff General Tagme Na Wai was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade at the armed forces headquarters in the capital Bissau on 1 March. President João Bernardo Vieira was killed in a reprisal attack on 2 March, according to Sandji Fati, a retired army colonel who was close to the President.

An army statement denied a coup was in progress, and instead blamed an "isolated" group of unidentified soldiers whom the military said it was now hunting down.

After the attack on the military headquarters, officers ordered the country's three private radio stations - Radio Pindjiguiti, Radio Bombolom and Voice of Quelele - to cease broadcasting.

"For the security of the journalists, you must close the radio station and stop broadcasting. It's for your own safety," Samuel Fernandes, an armed forces spokesman, told reporters at one station.

But MFWA says the radio stations were ordered to stop broadcasting because they could spread false information about the mutiny.

In any case, RSF reports broadcast media were allowed to resume operating around midday on 2 March.

Tensions between the President and the military had been steadily rising in recent months. Soldiers attacked the President's office shortly after parliamentary elections in November in what may have been a coup attempt, and there were reports of increasingly bitter hostility between Vieira and Na Wai.

Both have been accused of being involved in the hugely lucrative cocaine trade. The impoverished country is a major transit point for South American cocaine headed for Europe, with traffickers taking advantage of Guinea-Bissau's scant surveillance, government instability and poverty to ply their trade. The UN office on drugs and crime warned last year the country was in danger of becoming a narco-state.

In the past, the authorities have been accused of trying to intimidate journalists so they will not investigate their alleged involvement in drug trafficking. In 2007, at least four journalists went into hiding for fear of being killed for their various reports that identified the country's armed forces, especially the marines, as major collaborators in the drug trade.

Visit these links:
- MFWA: http://tinyurl.com/chv89l
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30438
- IFEX Communiqué on media and drug trade (Sept. 2007): http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/86199
- The Guardian: http://tinyurl.com/bz3s9t
- IRIN (UN's humanitarian and news analysis service): http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=83239
(4 March 2009)

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