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DATE=12/7/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=SUDAN PARDONS (L-O) NUMBER=2-256930 BYLINE=SCOTT BOBB DATELINE=CAIRO CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has pardoned 20 prisoners, including two Roman-Catholic priests, charged with a series of bombings. But Middle East Correspondent Scott Bobb reports the pardon is causing concern among some Sudanese church leaders. TEXT: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir issued the pardon before television cameras, after the priests asked for forgiveness. /// BASHIR ACT - IN ARABIC - FADE UNDER /// President Bashir said he had decided to grant the pardon, as requested by the accused, in the spirit of an agreement signed last month in Djibouti. The Sudanese president was referring to a controversial agreement signed with one of the major exiled opposition leaders, former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. The agreement outlines a program to bring peace after decades of civil war, but most other exiled dissidents have rejected the Djibouti accord. /// OPT /// News agencies say the two priests and 18 civilian prisoners were to be released Tuesday. /// END OPT /// Sudanese news media broadcast remarks by one of the priests, Hilary Boma, expressing gratitude to the Sudanese president. /// BOMA ACT - IN ARABIC - FADE UNDER /// Father Boma thanked the Sudanese president on behalf of the Sudanese people. He said the pardon is in the path of peace and human rights. The prisoners were accused of involvement in a series of bombings 18-months ago in Khartoum to mark the ninth anniversary of the coup that brought President Bashir to power. They faced the death penalty if convicted. Catholic officials reportedly were concerned that the priest's request for a pardon would constitute an admission of guilt. Last December, the Vatican news service reported that Father Boma signed a confession to stop the torture of a colleague before his eyes. /// REST OPT /// Sudanese government officials in recent months have met with a number of exiled dissidents, seeking to encourage them to return home. The government legalized opposition parties in anticipation of parliamentary elections next year. The moves have attracted some opposition leaders, but have drawn an angry rejection from others. They say the government intends to control the outcome of the vote by restricting which parties are allowed to register. (SIGNED) NEB/SB/JWH/RAE 07-Dec-1999 12:20 PM EDT (07-Dec-1999 1720 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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