Sudan puts heat on France over children row

20th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

20 November 2007, KHARTOUM - Aid agencies and French interests in Sudan are coming under intense pressure over a plot to abduct 103 Darfur children from neighbouring Chad and transfer them to France.

20 November 2007

KHARTOUM - Aid agencies and French interests in Sudan are coming under intense pressure over a plot to abduct 103 Darfur children from neighbouring Chad and transfer them to France.

Three weeks after the aborted attempt by the French charity Zoe's Ark to fly the children out of Africa, Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has added his voice to a chorus of anger, branding the action as modern-day slavery.

"This we can call a slave market," Beshir said on Saturday.

"The operation took place under the eyes and noses of Western charitable organisations and the French government," he said, despite French denials.

"America, Britain and Europe are liars and hypocrites who want our resources and that's why they stole our children to sell in a slave market in Europe."

Aid agencies operating in violence-wracked Darfur are being harassed, and the authorities are using the scandal to tighten the noose around some 12,500 aid workers deployed in the western Sudanese region.

"It would have been a good opportunity for Sudan to underscore that what happened in Chad would have never happened here," lamented Orla Clinton of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Members of French NGOs, and other foreign aid workers, have been summoned  by Sudan's humanitarian aid commissioner Mohamed Abdel Rahman Hassabo and warned their actions will be held to account, one of them said.   Hassabo has accused Paris of having furnished visas to the French charity to get the children out of Chad, before the Chadian authorities intervened.

"In March, April, May, the authorities of France gave advance visas and gave permission for the plane to take these children to France," he said earlier this month in Geneva.

The children were merely the advance guard of a vast operation to send 10,000 African children to Europe, Hassabo said.

Zoe's Ark said the children were orphans from Darfur who were to be placed in foster care with families in Europe.

But Chad argued the group did not have permission to take the children out of the country.

While Hassabo claims 17 of the children were Sudanese, aid agencies who have since cared for them said most of the youngsters are Chadian and have at least one living parent.

Nevertheless protests were organised in front of the French embassy in Khartoum.

Ruling National Congress Party officials have also upped the ante, and some of its MPS have even demanded the expulsion of French Ambassador Christine Robichon as well as French charities.

"The question is why these children were being taken to the West? Perhaps to provide organs such as hearts and kidneys to elderly patients," Nafie Ali Nafie, number two of the NCP, told a party news conference on Monday.

Party member Qotbi al-Mahdi branded the action by Zoe's Ark as "proof of the Western plot against Arabs and Muslims."

In an unrelated move earlier this month -- but one that clearly reflects the general mood prevailing in the region -- Sudan expelled the Canadian head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) from Nyala, south Darfur.

Aid workers are meanwhile determined to strengthen communications channels with the Khartoum government to repair the damage done by Zoe's Ark, and 40 organisations have signed a petition to denounce the charity.

"It is a scandal. A band of nincompoops cannot threaten the assistance we give to 5,000 children in Darfur," said Joel Weiler, of the Enfant du Monde-Droits de l'Homme (Children of the World) organisation.

Celine Beaudic of the group "Solidarites" which has 45 expatriates and 300 Sudanese nationals working in southern and western Darfur, is equally keen to distance her organisation from Zoe's Ark.

"We condemn this one hundred percent. What they did was very serious," she  said.


Subject: French news

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