American journalist Paul Salopek is on his way back to the United States following his release from jail by the Sudanese government Saturday. Salopek was arrested and charged with spying in early August after entering Sudan's Darfur region without a visa.
A weary-looking Salopek told reporters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum that he had been treated humanely during his 35 days in captivity in Darfur.
Salopek was released from a prison in the western city of El Fasher following negotiations between U.S. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir.
Salopek is a resident of New Mexico.
Richardson successfully negotiated Salopek's release on Friday, traveling to Khartoum with a delegation that included Salopek's wife and editors from the Chicago Tribune and National Geographic Magazine.
Salopek's wife, Linda Lynch, said she was pleased to have her husband back. "I would just like to say this is an extremely joyful day for me and for the rest of Paul's family. We remain deeply grateful to every single individual who helped us in this situation, and again our deep gratitude to President Bashir and the people of Sudan for their kindness in this matter," she said.
Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent with the Tribune, was arrested while on assignment for National Geographic.
He entered Darfur from neighboring Chad without a visa along with a Chadian driver and interpreter, who were also released on Saturday.
Despite his ordeal, Salopk told reporters in Khartoum that he would return to Darfur again if he were granted a visa. "The Darfur story continues to be important and one that deserves continuing coverage. The decision to come across from Chad was a mistake on my part. I apologized to the judge in El Fasher for it. However, I hope it is not taken as a symbol or an example that we should not cover the story. I think the story is getting more important," he said.
Tensions have run high between the United Sstate and Sudan in recent weeks, as Washington has pushed for a United Nations peace-keeping force to enter the war-torn Darfur region.
Sudan has refused to allow the U.N into Darfur, where an estimated 200,000 people have died during a three-year conflict between rebels and the Sudan government.
Sudan has been charged with arming militias to crush a 2003 rebellion in Darfur, using a savage campaign of rape and murder.
Governor Richardson said his talks with President Al Bashir touched on the subject of the United Nations, but he described his visit as a humanitarian mission rather than a political one. "There were no deals. It was a humanitarian gesture on the part of President Bashir. I made the case that Paul Salopek and the two Chadian members of our delegation were legitimate journalists, were respected journalists, they were doing their job, they were not spies. It was
a humanitarian gesture on the part of President Bashir and I appreciate that," he said.
Salopek's release comes at a time of increased restrictions on the press in Sudan. A Sudanese editor [Mohamed Taha of Al Wifaq newspaper] was found beheaded this week after being abducted outside of his home in Khartoum.
No one has claimed responsibility for the murder.
Local and international journalists have reported a wave of arrests, detentions and beatings recently in and around the capital Khartoum.