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French journalists held in Niger freed on bail

Two French journalists who face a possible death sentence for interviewing Tuareg rebels in the Sahara have been freed on bail and are due to leave Niger for Paris overnight, their lawyer said on Friday.

world Updated: Jan 19, 2008 02:21 IST

Two French journalists who face a possible death sentence for interviewing Tuareg rebels in the Sahara have been freed on bail and are due to leave Niger for Paris overnight, their lawyer said on Friday.

"This is it - they're free. They're going to take a flight for Paris at 2:00 am," (0100 GMT Saturday) defence lawyer Moussa Coulibaly told AFP.

Pierre Creisson and Thomas Dandois -- on assignment for Franco-German TV channel Arte -- were arrested on December 17 on charges of "undermining the security of the state", which carries a possible death penalty.

While they had permission to film in central and southern Niger for a report on bird flu, they also travelled north to interview Tuareg rebels of the Movement of Niger People for Justice (MNJ), the Niger authorities have said.

The journalists, and Arte, have acknowledged that seeing the rebels was in breach of a media restrictions in the west African country.

The government in Niger dismisses the Tuareg fighters of the southern Sahara as bandits and accuses them of links with drug traffickers.

The MNJ wants Tuaregs -- traditionally a nomadic Berber people -- to be included in Niger's army and paramilitary corps and to benefit from the mining sector.

It has claimed numerous attacks on military targets in the Agadez region where Niger's uranium mines are situated.