USA for Africa – Save Paul Salopek

The U.S. media’s attention to the still tender situation in south Lebanon, where UN troops are just now moving into place is waning considerably. Is it finally time to devote concentrated coverage to incomprehensible devastation elsewhere? A proposal to move 20,000 UN troops into Darfur ASAP, amid reports of a new offensive by the Sudanese government.

paul salopekMeantime, Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Paul Salopek is on trial for espionage and related charges in southern Sudan. He is on assignment for National Geographic, and has yet to even PUBLISH a word from his trip, yet he is already in deep.

The Sudanese government has been hard on the media for years, primarily in allowing access to the Darfur crisis, where half a million people have died in a three-year campaign of government-sponsored genocide. But Salopek — winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting (see his award-winning articles from Africa in 2000 and his 1997 reporting on the Human Genome Project), — is not a spy and was not out of bounds for carrying a backup copy of his passport and a publicly available satellite map of Sudan. The Tribune has an article today highlighting Salopek’s accomplishments, sprinkled with high praise from his contacts and associates worldwide here.

Securing Salopek’s immediate release is of utmost urgency, writes Tim Rutten in the L.A. Times.

Salopek was arrested along with his driver and interpreter, both from Chad — which neighbors Sudan to the South. Chad is in the news as well these days and in no small way.

Chad is a big shot with its freshly tapped and abundant oil. Earlier today, they expelled two oil giants — Petronas and Chevron — from the country:

“From tomorrow, the representatives of Chevron and Petronas must leave Chad and close their offices… ChevronTexaco and Petronas must leave Chad because they have refused to pay their taxes,” Chad President Idriss Derby announced.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, is in Kenya encouraging reform and arriving a hometown hero (his father and grandfather are from there). There is plenty I intend to read regarding his trip including Blog coverage from the Sun Times and Tribune and this Time feature. The senator has also been closely tracking the Salopek case, according to this statement captured by the Trib:

“Press freedom is like tending a garden, it’s never done,” Obama said. “It continually has to be nurtured and cultivated and the citizenry has to value it. It’s one of those things that can slip away if we don’t tend to it.”

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