Sierra Leone's vice president, Samuel Sam-Sumana, on Mar. 13 ordered an indefinite ban on radio stations owned by the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) and its main rival, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), writes Lansana Fofana for IPS.

This comes in the wake of a wave of politically-motivated clashes between rival party militants across the country these past two weeks. The situation has deteriorated so much so that by-elections in Gendema, a remote town bordering Liberia, had to be put on hold.

The APC-owned Rising Sun FM 88.8 and opposition-controlled Radio Unity 94.9 were registered in the run up to the 2007 elections. There's been no let up in the volume of inciting messages being broadcast since they first went on air.

"This is assuming frightening proportions," Information and Communication minister, Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, told IPS. "We cannot allow this to continue because it will destroy the hard-earned peace and stability we now enjoy."

Many pundits believe the radio wars helped to bring the APC to power after 15 years in the political wilderness. During the 2007 election campaign the radio platform was used to mobilise grassroots support for the APC and to discredit the then ruling SLPP. Now the opposition is employing the same strategy to stage a political comeback.

"I don't see anything wrong with our broadcasts. We are simply putting the APC government on its toes and creating awareness among our members," claimed Jacob Jusu-Saffa, the secretary general of the SLPP.

But the ruling party has accused the opposition station of preaching hatred, tribalism and violence.

"One of their programmes, Inside the Papers, is simply used to ridicule anything meaningful that the government does. This, in no small measure, drives away investors and creates a platform for civil unrest," charged Victor Foe, the APC secretary general.

Even before the banning of the two radio stations, there have been public calls, especially from ruling party sympathisers, to take them off the air. Comparisons have been drawn with the role that radio stations played in the Rwandan genocide.

But the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has been quick to condemn the clampdown.

"It is not the job of the vice president to ban radio stations. We have the Independent Media Commission (IMC), which is the regulatory body for the media, and so we condemn the action and call for an unconditional lifting of the ban," said SLAJ president, Umaru Fofana.

Click here to read the full report, posted on the IPS website.