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South Sudanese Priest Expelled from Sudan

A Catholic priest leads the congregation in prayer in Juba in July 2012.
Sudan has expelled a South Sudanese Catholic priest, who is Secretary General of the Khartoum-based Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference, and two religious brothers from France and Egypt, giving no reason for the expulsions.

The expelled were South Sudanese Father Santino Morokomomo Maurino, Brother Michel Fleury from France and Brother Hossam from Egypt. The latter two are members of the De La Salle Christian Brothers in Khartoum and had been working at the Catholic Language Institute in the Sudanese capital.

Maurino said officers summoned him to the National Intelligence and Security Services headquarters in Khartoum last week and interrogated him about the activities of the institute.

He was briefly detained and given three days to buy an airline ticket, obtain an exit visa and leave the country .

Maurino arrived in Juba on Friday, a few hours ahead of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, who visited South Sudan for the first time since it split from the north in 2011.

The Catholic priest said he believed the Sudanese authorities had been watching the brothers who were expelled for some time.

Bashir denied that his government was singling out Christians or South Sudanese.

"We cannot say the actions of the government are targeting South Sudanese or Christians Anybody in Sudan is expected to respect the laws of Sudan," he said, without elaborating.

South Sudanese follow mainly traditional religions or Christianity, unlike the people of Sudan who are predominantly Muslim.

Around a quarter of South Sudan's population of 8.26 million is Roman Catholic -- a higher ratio than in Africa as a whole, where 16 percent of the population is Catholic.

President Salva Kiir is one of the country's best known Catholics and has pledged at St. Theresa Cathedral in Juba that South Sudan will respect people's right to worship as they choose.