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UN opens new front in Liberia's battle for peace - battery-less radios

UN opens new front in Liberia's battle for peace - battery-less radios

Jacques Paul Klein
Harnessing the air waves to the struggle for rehabilitation in Liberia, the top United Nations envoy in the war-torn West African country has gone to a remote town hundreds of kilometres from the capital to launch a nationwide distribution of wind-up radio sets in an effort to accelerate the peace process and recovery.

"This is community empowerment. This is real recovery for the future," Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative Jacques Paul Klein said yesterday, opening another front in the multi-pronged UN mission, ranging from military patrols to ensure the ceasefire accords and the disarming of former fighters to help in building civilian structures and holding elections after 14 years of civil war.

"We're also contributing to the reconciliation process as the dissemination of hate and destruction is undermined by exposure to the world of information. When people hear the truth, they put their evil ways aside," he added in Voinjama, 400 kilometres north-west of Monrovia, in a country where radio is the principal source of information.

The radios, which can wind-up and do not require batteries, are part of a humanitarian donation programme from The Oneness - Hearts, Tears and Smiles, a non-governmental organization (NGO) with a network of volunteers around the world. In addition to the radios, the organization has donated medical equipment and supplies, drugs and computers to Liberia.

Mr. Klein said that as the country steadily approached national elections in October 2005, the radios would increase people's access to information, essential to Liberia's full transition to a free and open society.

With communities now able to access valuable educational programmes, he encouraged local leaders to use Radio UNMIL broadcast by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to exchange ideas and provide updates on development. "We will record your messages and they will be on the air so that people can hear your messages," he said.

With over 75 per cent illiteracy, radio is a vital means of transmitting news in Liberia. The new programme seeks to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation process through civic education broadcasts. Targeted beneficiaries include health facilities, orphanages and community groups, including elders' and women's groups.

UNMIL was set up in September 2003 not only as a military mission to support the ceasefire accords, but also with a civilian remit to help the transitional Government reestablish national authority in all its many aspects.