Europeans risk kidnapping charge over 'illegal and unacceptable' Chad 'adoptions'

29th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

29 October 2007, ABECHE (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday condemned as "illegal and unacceptable" the attempts by a French charity to fly 103 children to France from the Chad-Darfur border.

29 October 2007

ABECHE (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday condemned as "illegal and unacceptable" the attempts by a French charity to fly 103 children to France from the Chad-Darfur border.

"President Nicolas Sarkozy called Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno to discuss the sad case of the Zoe's Ark (charity) which involves about 100 very young children," his spokesman David Martinon said in Paris.

"The president condemned this operation which he called illegal and unacceptable."

He said Sarkozy had asked the Chadian president about the situation of the nine French nationals including three journalists who were arrested in the eastern Chadian town of Abeche over the incident.

France's ambassador to Chad said earlier Sunday that six charity workers risking kidnap charges for trying to fly the children to France from the Chad-Darfur border must face the consequences of their acts.

Nine French nationals -- six members of the operation and three journalists -- and seven Spanish crew of the chartered aircraft were in custody in Abeche and were expected to be told of the charges against them by Monday.

A Belgian pilot who flew the children as far as Abeche was also taken into custody on Sunday, a Chadian official said. The Belgian foreign ministry said it had tried to contact the pilot but could not confirm his whereabouts.

Ambassador Bruno Foucher visited the orphanage in Abeche where the children, aged one to 10, were taken into care Thursday just before the French charity put them on a plane to France.

"This is a completely illegal operation," he told reporters.

President Deby has promised "severe punishment" for what he has described as a "kidnapping" or "child trafficking" operation, suggesting the group was seeking to sell the children or "kill them and remove their organs."

Zoe's Ark representatives in Paris insist they mounted the "Children Rescue" operation in good faith, hoping to evacuate a group of orphans whose lives were at risk in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur, over the Chadian border.

The charity says it was given statements from tribal leaders that all the children were Darfur orphans with no known relatives.

UNICEF said after interviewing the children -- 88 boys and 22 girls, all in good health -- that most appear to be Chadian, not Darfuri, and that there was no evidence they were orphans.

Chad's aviation authority says it delivered a flight permit to the group for a sanitary evacuation "not a kidnapping".

The children were reportedly to be adopted or fostered by families who each paid 2,800-6,000 euros, allegedly to cover evacuation costs.

The French government has said it warned Zoe's Ark months ago that it risked breaking the law. French police have been investigating the charity's activities since July.

Zoe's Ark -- whose members were granted access to French military aircraft and facilities in Chad -- says the French government did nothing to stop it.

"We did all there was to do to stop this taking place. If it did go head it was in the most clandestine way imaginable," France's junior minister for human rights Rama Yade told a press conference.

She accused the charity of "obvious dissimulation", saying it had changed its name to Children Rescue once in Chad.

Aid groups working in eastern Chad, home to some 236,000 cross-border refugees from Darfur as well as some 173,000 people displaced by a local rebellion, have firmly condemned the operation.

Zoe's Ark was founded by a volunteer firefighter, Eric Breteau -- among those arrested in Chad -- to provide assistance to victims of the December 2004 Asian tsunami.

The Children Rescue operation initially planned to fly 10,000 children out of Darfur to Europe, a plan attacked as "irresponsible" and amateurish by adoption and humanitarian groups.

One would-be adoptive parent, Guillemette Faure, told AFP she contacted Zoe's Ark but was scared off by a "blurring of lines between fostering and adoption" and the lack of guarantees the children were orphans.

But she said she was "uncomfortable" to hear the group described as "child traffickers".


Subject: French news

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