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UN Questions Timing of Congo’s Decision to Block Broadcaster

The United Nations questioned the timing of a decision by Democratic Republic of Congo’s media-monitoring council to cut the signal of UN-backed Radio Okapi amid a rebellion in the east of the country.

The government suspended transmissions after the broadcaster failed to submit a program schedule to the Superior Audiovisual and Communications Council as required by law, Chantal Kanyimbo, the council’s reporter, said by phone yesterday from the capital, Kinshasa. The UN said it wasn’t notified of the decision in advance.

“This is particularly unfortunate given the current very sensitive and difficult situation” in eastern Congo, Roger Meece, the special representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Congo, said in an e-mailed statement. “We find the timing and lack of notification by the CSAC puzzling and regrettable. We will be registering an official protest of this action with Congolese authorities.”

Congo’s government is struggling to end a rebellion that began in April in resource-rich North Kivu province. On Nov. 20, a rebel group known as M23 captured the provincial capital of Goma and forced Congolese soldiers to flee. M23 pulled out of the trading hub on Dec. 1 in anticipation of negotiations with Congolese President Joseph Kabila. M23 says the government hasn’t lived up to a 2009 peace agreement, and that Kabila won re-election last year by fraud.

Radio Okapi, based in Kinshasa and which is also backed by the Swiss Hirondelle Foundation, has broadcast for 10 years across the Central African nation. Congo is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa by landmass with a population of about 70 million.

Kanyimbo said the decision to suspend Radio Okapi was technical. “This has absolutely nothing to do with the situation in the east,” she said.

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