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Sudan reportedly will free Tribune reporter

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(CNN) -- Sudan will release Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek, who was held on spying charges after entering Sudan without a visa, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed to free Salopek and two Chadian nationals who were being held with him as a humanitarian gesture on Sunday, the governor said at a news conference that followed a 45-minute meeting at al-Bashir's palace in Khartoum.

Salopek's wife, Linda Lynch, a resident of Columbus, New Mexico, accompanied Richardson to the meeting.

"The successful end to this unfortunate episode is a victory for journalism and a free press," Richardson said.

A press release issued Wednesday by Richardson's office identified the Chadians as Suleiman Abakar Moussa, Salopek's interpreter, and his driver, Abdulraham Anu.

"Paul Salopek is clearly not a spy. He's my constituent, and he is a talented and respected journalist who was attempting to do his job telling the story of the people, culture and history of the sub-Saharan region known as the Sahel," Richardson said in the statement.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday he met al-Bashir in December 1996 when he worked to gain the release of a pilot and two Red Cross workers held for 38 days by Marxist rebels in Sudan.

Salopek is a Chicago Tribune reporter who was on assignment in Africa for National Geographic when he was detained. He was arrested in early August after crossing into Sudan from Chad, Tribune Editor Marie Lipinski said.

A court in North Darfur charged Salopek on August 26 with criminal acts of espionage, reporting official documents, reporting false information and entering Sudan without a visa.

The basis of the Sudanese charges were unclear, Lipinski said at the time.

According to the news release from Richardson's office, Lipinski approached Richardson for help, and the governor met last week in Washington with Sudanese Ambassador to the United States Khadir Haroun Ahmed. Richardson was later formally invited to meet with al-Bashir.

Richardson also has helped secure the release of Americans held prisoner in Iraq, Cuba and North Korea, the news release states.

According to the Tribune, Salopek has covered Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia.

In 1998 Salopek won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his coverage of the Human Genome Diversity Project. In 2001 he won a Pulitzer for International Reporting for his work in Africa, which included his coverage of the civil war in Congo.

Before joining the Tribune, he worked as a writer for National Geographic for three years, according to the Tribune.


Journalist Paul Salopek will be released by Sudanese authorities Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said.



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