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UN condemns closure of Sudan opposition daily

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KHARTOUM, June 14 (Reuters) - The United Nations on Tuesday condemned the closure of Sudan’s only opposition English language daily, saying freedom of the press was essential for Sudan’s transition to democracy.

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A Sudanese read a daily newspaper

The Khartoum Monitor, one of three independent dailies in Sudan, was closed and had its licence revoked by a Supreme Court order on Sunday after it said it had suffered weeks of heavy censorship.

"I deplore that the government, not for the first time, has taken the decision to close down the Khartoum Monitor," the top U.N. envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, told reporters in Khartoum.

The paper was suspended for one day in May after publishing a report and editorial on deadly clashes between police and southern and Darfuri refugees in a camp south of Khartoum.

Pronk declined to condemn the suspension at the time, saying instead he saw only self-censorship in the Sudanese press. His comments ignited a barrage of rebuttals by the Sudanese media.

But on Tuesday Pronk applauded the Khartoum Monitor’s reporting on the clashes in the Soba Aradi refugee camp and said he would bring the issue up with government officials.

"If Sudan gradually becomes a more democratic country following the signature of the peace agreement, it would be wise to indeed allow freedom of people in the country to speak out and to exchange opinions," he said.

Rights group Reporters Without Borders urged the United Nations to act to stop censorship in the Sudanese press. Sudan denies there is censorship.

"What further act of censorship is the U.N. waiting for before it demands that the Sudanese authorities respect press freedom?" the group said in a statement.

"The government has the audacity to proclaim its support for democratic principles, yet it responds to the least criticism in the press with police surveillance and draconian court rulings."

Sudan signed a peace deal in January to end more than two decades of civil war in its south. It enshrines press freedom and paves the way for democratic elections in three years time.

The agreement does not cover a separate rebellion in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

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