Chad/Sudan: Radio offers new voice on Darfur border

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Men driving donkey carts to the market and refugees crouching in the shade finally have something to break the boredom of life in this arid Darfur border village - news, hip-hop and Arabic music coming in on cranky transistor radios. It's Radio Sila, the village's only radio station, funded mostly by U.S. taxpayers and pumping some fun into a violence-region suffering the spillover from the Darfur conflict next door.

Broadcast from a metal cargo container converted into a studio, the station is run by Internews, a California-based aid group spreading news and music to crisis zones. "First and foremost, we're a community radio," said Jocelyn Grange, a French journalist who manages the program in eastern Chad. "We try to be directly useful to our listeners." About 230,000 Darfurians are refugees in Chad, along with some 140,000 Chadians who also were uprooted by the violence.

Radio Sila is modeled after two others opened by Internews in 2005 and mid-2006 in eastern Chad, which offer a mix of local news and music seven days a week from morning to dusk. The stations also alert listeners to dangers, such as a recent janjaweed raid on a Chadian village that left 400 people dead. On a recent day, the news on radio Sila covered a U.N. VIP's visit, an upsurge in attacks on a nearby refugee camp, and a calendar of junior league soccer matches.

The Voice of Ouaddai in the region's main town of Abeche broadcasts in French and Arabic - Chad's two official languages. To the north, Radio Absoun is also broadcast in Zaghawa, the African language spoken in many villages and by the tens of thousands of Darfur refugees.

Radio Sila, in the south, largely caters to the Massalit tribe, whose language is rarely spoken in Chad, which is why it took longer to go on the air - it had to find a Massalit speaker with broadcasting skills.

Internews' three stations operate on a $1 million budget for this year, with most of the funding provided by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Along with news and music, the stations feature six weekly shows addressing topics such as health and safety in the camps. The star program, "She Speaks, She Listens," addresses women's issues. "We consider there's no taboo, as long as you're careful about how to address things," Grange said. "The only topic we carefully avoid is politics." Music outplays news, and men glued to their radio in the Koubigou refugee camp said they preferred it that way.

Associated Press, May 28th