Nuns held in Sudan for spreading Islam

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Nairobi (Reuter) - Rebels are holding six Catholic missionaries, including three Australian nuns, in south Sudan on charges of spying and spreading Islam, the Church said on yesterday.

The Catholic Information Office in Nairobi said that Australian Sisters Moira Lynch, 73, and Mary Batchelor, 68, American Fr Michael Barton, 48, and Sudanese Fr Raphael Riel, 48, were being held in prison by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Australian Sr Maureen Carey, 52, and Italian Brother Raniero Iacomella, 28, were being held in a mission compound.

The SPLA has been fighting Khartoum's government forces since 1983 in the mainly Christian south for greater independence from the Muslim north. The separatists have been weakened by splits since 1991, andtwo factions have signed a peace pact with Khartoum.

The Sudanese Catholic Information Office said the SPLA's Nairobi office attributed the detentions to a local commander and added that the missionaries would be freed.