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Friday, June 26, 1998 Published at 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK

World: Monitoring


(FOR ONLINE ONLY) CUE: In the small West African state of Guinea Bissau, military rebels who have been holding out for almost three weeks against a counteroffensive by government troops are still in control of an important propaganda trump-card: a radio station that ensures their broadcasts reach most of the country's listeners.

The rebels' mouthpiece, however, is not the national radio station but a commercial FM broadcaster, the intriguingly named Radio Bombolom.

Peter Feuilherade of BBC Monitoring's Foreign Media Unit has the details: The army rebellion in Guinea-Bissau, which started on 7th June against the government of President Nino Vieira, was sparked off when the president sacked the former armed forces chief of staff, Ansumane Mane, over arms smuggling allegations.

Following the classic pattern of military coups, one of the rebels' first moves was to seize a radio station to ensure that their message would be heard.

But instead of targeting the national state broadcaster, the rebels took over Radio Bombolom, a commercial FM station whose broadcasts can be heard by most of the population.

Since then, despite being silenced for brief periods during the worst of the fighting, the radio has continued to broadcast rebel announcements as well as relaying BBC programmes in Portuguese, as it had before the rebellion started.

Radio Bombolom takes its name from the local Creole word for the wooden drum traditionally used in West Africa for reporting news from one community to the next.

Set up in 1996 by Agnelo Regala, a former member of Guinea-Bissau's ruling PAIGC party, it is one of only three private FM radio stations which have operated under special licences granted by the Ministry of Information since the authorities allowed the tentative development of private broadcasters and newpapers in the 1990s.

Soon after Radio Bombolom was set up, it signed an agreement to relay the programmes of the BBC's Portuguese for Africa service, and the BBC provided the station with a satellite dish and receiver.

There are two other private FM radio stations in Bissau: Radio Pindjiguti, which relayed Voice of America programmes in Portuguese, and Radio Mavegro, a music-oriented station which also carried some BBC English programmes.

Both these stations were ordered by the government to close down after the coup.

Guinea-Bissau has a population of just over one million people.

The vast majority of residents of the capital - estimated as many as 300,000 people - have fled into the interior to escape the fighting around Bissau.

The country has a limited national television service, and the government radio has been off the air for long periods since the fighting started, because of problems in getting enough fuel for its transmitter.

That leaves rebel-held Radio Bombolom as the only radio station whose broadcasts can be heard in the interior as well as the capital.

According to Portuguese radio, Bombolom has been broadcasting frequent military communiques, read in Creole and Portuguese: "They are on the air all day.

They broadcast threats, insults, warnings levelled at President Nino Vieira, direct appeals to his allies, very unflattering adjectives being used, the usual bellicose talk." The two-storey building where the station is based has been shelled every day by government forces, and the radio has stopped broadcasting on several occasions, only to come back.

Now that the relaying of international radio broadcasts via domestic stations has been interrupted, apart from Bombolom, the only other sources of news for radio listeners in Guinea-Bissau are the shortwave broadcasts from international and regional stations.

But few people there are likely to have access to the necessary receivers.

On Thursday , the head of the BBC World Service's Portuguese for Africa section said that Radio Bombolom, as well as continuing to broadcast on behalf of the rebels, was still relaying the BBC's Portuguese transmissions which go out three times a day: from 0530-0600, 1700-1730 and 2030-2115 gmt.

But after heavy shelling in the capital later on Thursday, Radio Bombolom fell silent, although it was not immediately clear whether it had been damaged.

If the station has not been put off the air by the government forces, it will remain the country's primary source of international news so long as the crisis lasts.

In the words of a reporter for Portuguese radio in Bissau earlier this week: " The rebels are also scoring here: their message is the only one reaching the people." Source: Monitoring research 25-26 Jun 98 BBC Mon MD1 Media pf 1020260698

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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