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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 21:46 GMT

World: Africa

Sudan rebel news conference 'disconnected'

John Garang: Telephone lines "cut off"

The leader of Sudan's main rebel movement has accused the government of sabotaging a telephone news conference he had organised.

The accusation comes amid moves by the Sudanese Government to make overtures to the rebel opposition and demonstrate a commitment to democratic freedoms.

John Garang: "This is the nature of the regime"
John Garang, leader of the southern-based Sudanese People's Liberation Army said he had arranged to speak by telephone to journalists who had gathered in the capital, Khartoum.

"I was ready to conduct the press conference but couldn't get through the telephone system," Dr Garang told the BBC.

"Later on we learnt that the telephone lines were disconnected.

"Most of the local and international press who had gone to the press conference were arrested, 24 of them."


Hassan al Turabi: "Press is very free now"
Earlier, Speaker of the Assembly Hassan al Turabi - the man seen as the architect of the political reforms - had told the BBC that the press in Sudan was "very free".

He mentioned other reforms including the release of detainees, and the return of confiscated property.

The speaker said political parties could operate freely provided that they refrained from using violence, and that the party's internal structures operated in a democratic way.

The reforms have been interpreted as a way of courting the northern-based parties within the National Democratic Alliance, and driving a wedge between them and the SPLA.

Asked whether the liberalisation moves were a strategy to divide the opposition, Hassan al Turabi replied: "We don't have to do that" - saying that the opposition was not united in the first place.

The speaker said he had requested a private meeting with Dr Garang, arguing that a public debate would prompt the parties to adopt "extreme" positions.

He said the proposed meeting had been called off after Dr Garang drew public attention to it.

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