Ethiopia told Sweden in May it would free journalists soon

Reuters News

9/11/2012 11:49:11 AM - Reuters News

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Ethiopia told Sweden in May that it would pardon two detained Swedish journalists who were freed on Monday, but that it wanted to choose a suitable moment, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Tuesday.

Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were flown out of Ethiopia on Monday to an undisclosed location, where Bildt's ministry said they would be allowed to rest.

They had been sentenced to 11 years in jail in December after entering Ethiopia from Somalia with fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group.

Bildt said Sweden had been speaking to Ethiopia for months to secure the release of the two men. In May he met prime minister Meles Zenawi, who died last month.

"An hour-long meeting gave the result that the prime minister was clear that there would be a pardon, but that they would be freed at a time when it could be seen in a bigger context," Bildt wrote on his blog.

In the end, the two men were freed in a mass pardon of more than 1,900 inmates ahead of the Ethiopian New Year.

They were shown on Ethiopian state television on Monday apologizing for their actions.

"It was my life's biggest mistake, to go into the country without proper documents, which could have cost us our lives," Schibbye said.

Bildt has been criticized in Sweden for a conflict of interest as he is a former director of an oil company that used to own assets in the Ogaden region.

(Reporting by Mia Shanley and Patrick Lannin)