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Sudan Agrees to Release Jailed American Journalist Paul Salopek


New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has secured the release of Paul Salopek, an American reporter currently imprisoned in Sudan's Darfur region. Noel King reports Richardson arrived in the capital Khartoum for talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Friday.

Paul Salopek will be released into the custody of a delegation led by Governor Bill Richardson Saturday.

Salopek had been charged with spying and entering Sudan without a visa.

Richardson told VOA from the Sudanese capital Khartoum that he is elated to have negotiated the release of Salopek and the Chadian driver and interpreter who were arrested and charged along with him.

"The good news is that Paul Salopek and the two Chadians are going to be released to me tomorrow. I had a meeting with President Bashir moments after I arrived in Khartoum. I made a strong pitch on the basis of humanitarian grounds that Paul Salopek is not a spy, he's a distinguished journalist. President Bashir was gracious and said he would release him to me tomorrow [Saturday]."

Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent with the Chicago Tribune was arrested in Darfur in early August. He was on leave from the Tribune, and on assignment for National Geographic magazine.

Salopek crossed into Sudan from neighboring Chad without a visa and was subsequently charged with spying and printing false information about Sudan.

Tensions have run high between the U.S. and Sudan in recent weeks, as Washington has pushed for a United Nations force to enter the war-torn Darfur region.

Sudan has refused to allow the U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur and has accused the U.S. of plotting a regime change.

Richardson described his negotiations with President al-Bashir as friendly. He called Salopek's case a humanitarian issue rather than a political one.

"If we use diplomacy and we use international understanding and recognize each other's differences, we have huge differences with Sudan," he said. "But on this humanitarian issue, Paul Salopek will be a free man tomorrow."

The delegation will pick Salopek up in the Darfuri capital El Fasher, before returning to New Mexico.

The Chadian driver and interpreter who accompanied Salopek will be allowed to return to Chad.

Friday's trip to Khartoum was not a first for Richardson. In 1996, he helped to negotiate the release of three Red Cross workers who were being held by rebels in Sudan.