Paris let us down in Chad case: French charity chief

21st November 2007, Comments 0 comments

21 November 2007, NDJAMENA - The head of a French charity who is in a Chadian jail accused of trying to abduct 103 children to France last month said Tuesday the government in Paris had let him and his colleagues down.

21 November 2007

NDJAMENA - The head of a French charity who is in a Chadian jail accused of trying to abduct 103 children to France last month said Tuesday the government in Paris had let him and his colleagues down.

"The French government let us down. They even made it worse for us," Zoe's Ark chief Eric Breteau told journalists at Ndjamena prison. He insisted that the French government had known about their operation.

Breteau was arrested, along with 16 other Europeans and four Chadians, last month after allegedly attempting to bring the children to France.

A Spanish flight crew, three French journalists and a Belgian pilot were later released but six French charity workers and the four Chadians remain in jail in Ndjamena on charges of child abduction and fraud. The Chadians are charged with complicity.

The Zoe's Ark staff have said they believed the children were orphans from neighbouring Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

Breteau said the charity had proof that it acted within the law, adding that the truth would eventually come out.

"For us they are Darfur orphans and we never met their families," Breteau told AFP and Radio France Internationale.

His assistant Emilie Lelouch said village "chiefs who worked with us may have lied to us" about the children's identity.

She added: "If these children had parents why did we never see them since the children were with us for more than six weeks?"

The six charity workers, who were seen by AFP Tuesday, appeared to be in good health and said they were being well treated by prison authorities.

Breteau regretted that the case had been drawn into the media spotlight.

"Everybody is talking but us," he said. "They are trying to stop us from talking," he added, without elaborating.

The group shares two cells, which are open during the day. The Chadians are being held in other cells on the same floor.

According to an investigation by international aid organisations, most of the children involved in the Zoe's Ark operation were from Chadian border villages and had at least one parent or an adult they consider a parent.

Those detained risk up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to return to Chad to bring home "those who stayed behind" after bringing back three French journalists and four Spanish air hostesses earlier this month.

But the French authorities have also officially distanced themselves from the charity's operation, saying it was "illegal and irresponsible".

Sarkozy's statement provoked tensions with Chad, a former French colony. President Idriss Deby Itno insisted that "justice will be spoken here in Chad".

AFP

Subject: French news

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