SUDANESE security agents seized all the copies of three independent local newspapers on Sunday, their editors said, the latest such move in a week-long crackdown.

The security agents took all the latest editions of Al-Ahdath, Al-Watan, and Al-Jarida early on Sunday, shortly after they had been printed, without giving a reason.

The arbitrary seizure of independent newspapers comes amid concerns about worsening press freedom under the government of President Omar al-Bashir, which has coincided with increasing tension between Khartoum and Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

"I think they want to hit us with heavy financial losses, because we have lost a lot of money from the printing and from the money we expected to get from advertising," said Al-Jarida's editor-in-chief Osman Shinger.

"It is a bad thing for the freedom of expression in Sudan," said Mr Shinger, whose paper has now been barred from circulating at least three times this month.

On Friday, Al-Jarida and Akhir Lahza, another independent daily, saw their print runs confiscated.

On Tuesday, security agents took all the copies of Al-Ahram, which contained an interview with a top South Sudanese official, and banned the newspaper Al-Tayar from publishing for an unspecified period.

Journalists and members of the opposition Communist Party held a sit-in earlier this month to protest against repeated restrictions against their newspaper, Al-Midan, after its distribution was blocked by security agents 13 times in the past month.

The United Nations (UN) expert on human rights in Sudan, Mashood Adebayo Baderin, on Thursday highlighted concerns about press freedom during his first visit to the country since his appointment in March. Mr Baderin said people had raised the issue with him, "with particular reference being made to the use of national security laws to clamp down on the press, including closure of media houses, arrest of journalists and confiscation of newspapers".

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has said the crises in Libya, Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere prompted 800000 people to flee their countries last year, the highest number in 11 years.

A report yesterday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that, including people who fled their homes but not their countries, the total number of newly displaced people worldwide during last year was 4,3-million.

Sapa-AFP