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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006, 21:40 GMT 22:40 UK
Sudan frees jailed US journalist
By Jonah Fisher
BBC News, Khartoum

Paul Salopek in a Khartoum hotel
Mr Salopek admitted it was a mistake to enter without a visa
The Sudanese authorities have released US journalist Paul Salopek who had been detained on spying charges.

He was held for 35 days in Sudan's troubled Darfur region after crossing the border from Chad without a visa.

Mr Salopek was released on humanitarian grounds after his wife and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson flew to Sudan to petition President Omar al-Bashir.

Paul Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the Chicago Tribune, was on assignment for National Geographic.

Governor Richardson achieved in 45 minutes what the international community has failed to do in a year - he persuaded Sudan's president to change his mind.

Securing Mr Salopek's release may not be the same as accepting UN peacekeepers, but Mr Richardson's long-standing relationship with President Bashir paid fruit immediately.

"There were no deals, it was a humanitarian gesture on the part of President Bashir at my request," Mr Richardson said.

"I made the case that Paul Salopek and the two Chadian members of our delegation were legitimate journalists, respected journalists, they were doing their job, they were not spies."

Permits

Mr Salopek was in Chad working for National Geographic magazine.

With no visa he crossed over the border into Sudan where he and his Chadian translator and driver were detained.

Sudan map

For more than a month the authorities in Darfur kept the three in jail on charges of spying.

Speaking after his release at a press conference in Khartoum, Mr Salopek took part of the blame for their fate.

"The decision to come across from Chad was a mistake on my part and I apologised to the judge in El Fasher for it. However I would hope that it is not taken as a symbol or an example that we should not cover this story. I think the story is getting more important not less important, " Mr Salopek said.

Reporting on Darfur's conflict is not easy. Journalists often wait many months for a visa to get into Sudan before applying again for the separate permit needed to reach Darfur.

Once there, further restrictions and harassment from government officials are common.


SEE ALSO
Slovene 'spy' jailed in Sudan
14 Aug 06 |  Africa
Slovene envoy on trial in Sudan
03 Aug 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Sudan
07 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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