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MAURITANIA: TWO JOURNALISTS ARRESTED IN DRUGS LIBEL CASE- WATCHDOG July 23, 2008

(SomaliNet) An international press watchdog said on Tuesday that Mauritanian authorities have arrested two journalists accused of libelling judges whom they reported had accepted bribes to release suspected drug traffickers.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement that the journalists were arrested on Monday after an article in their Arabic-language weekly newspaper claiming that the judges had received nearly 70,000 euros to release a businessman and a policeman accused of drug trafficking.

The judges had rejected the accusations and sued the two reporters for libel.

Meanwhile, West Africa has become a major hub for cocaine headed to Europe from Latin America and one of the biggest seizures last year -- a haul of 860 kg (1,896 lb) -- was made in the remote north of Mauritania, an Islamic state on the west side of the Sahara.

Drug experts say international trafficking networks are taking advantage of weak and corrupt states in the region and are often aided by the collusion of officials.

"The judicial police arrested Mohamed Ould Abdelatif, a journalist with Al-Houriya, following a charge of libel lodged by three judges from the prosecutor's office," RSF said. It said the newspaper's editor, Mohamed Nema Oumar, was also arrested.

Nema Oumar reported that a defence lawyer had paid the three judges the equivalent of 68,650 euros to release a businessman and a police officer accused of drug trafficking, the watchdog added.

Mauritania is one of Africa's newest oil producers and it has received robust backing from donors and Western governments following democratic elections in late 2006 which ended decades of authoritarian rule.

But it has seen political turmoil in the past year with a spate of al Qaeda attacks, continuing tensions between rival ethnic groups and the naming of two new governments in the past three months.

"The systematic imprisonment of journalists involved in press cases must stop," RSF said. –Reuters