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BBC Arabic radio suspended in north Sudan

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The BBC’s licence to broadcast in Arabic on local frequencies in north Sudan will be suspended from Monday, the government announced, citing violations by the broadcaster such as smuggling in satellite equipment.

A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) satellite dish is seen behind houses in west London, October 18, 2007. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Many Sudanese, especially Darfuri refugees in camps in the war-torn west, rely on the Arabic-language service and the British broadcaster has a long history in Africa’s largest country.

“The government ... is stopping the BBC’s FM service working in Khartoum, Port Sudan, Medani and el-Obeid and is suspending the agreement signed between the BBC and (the government) from August 9, 2010,” said an Information Ministry statement published by the state news agency SUNA on Sunday.

The four locations mentioned are the main towns in the north and the measure would effectively end FM broadcasts in Arabic by the BBC in the north.

Sudan has often clamped down on local media but generally does not censor foreign news organisations.

The government said the BBC had tried to smuggle in satellite equipment in a diplomatic pouch, that it was working in South Sudan without permission from the central authorities and that the BBC’s charitable arm was working in the country without the correct permits.

Visiting journalists often complain Sudanese visas and travel permits to conflict zones once inside the country are difficult to obtain.

All foreigners resident in the country are subject to strict travel restrictions and must obtain permits to visit many of Sudan’s regions.

The BBC has previously said it was in talks with the government to continue broadcasting.

“We would be very disappointed if the Sudanese people in northern Sudan were no longer able to access the impartial news and current affairs of BBC Arabic on FM radio,” it said in a statement sent to Reuters earlier.

It added the station would still be available on short wave, satellite or via the BBC website.

On Saturday, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir warned foreign organisations including aid agencies they would be expelled if they failed to respect the authority of the government.

Last month Sudan expelled two aid workers from the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide during Darfur’s seven-year conflict.

A counter-insurgency campaign drove more than 2 million people from their homes to miserable camps, sparking one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Reporting by Opheera McDoom; editing by Andrew Dobbie