2 November 2007
BRUSSELS – A Belgian pilot charged along with 16 Europeans over an alleged mass child abduction in Chad, saw nothing suspicious with what he believed was a legitimate relief operation, the Belgian press reported his lawyer as saying Friday.
“In his eyes, everything seemed perfectly normal,” Jacques Wilmart’s lawyer, Xavier Magnee, told Le Soir newspaper.
Chad prosecutors have charged 17 Europeans and two Chadians with alleged kidnapping or complicity to kidnap after a French charity, Zoe’s Ark, tried to fly 103 African children out of eastern Chad to France on 25 October.
The charity said it was saving orphans in the Darfur conflict from certain death.
“Mr. Wilmart saw that the operation was well organised. How would he have known that it was illegal?” Magnee was quoted as saying.
“He must have seen that the children were lodged in special buildings for accommodation, that the airplane to take them to France was a commercial airplane and not a dodgy cargo plane like those used for trafficking.”
Nine French nationals — six charity members and three journalists who were with them — face a forced labour sentence on charges of kidnapping and extortion, while seven Spanish flight crew have been charged with complicity.
Wilmart, 75, was also charged on Wednesday because he had flown the children from the border settlement of Adre to the main eastern town of Abeche, where the other Europeans were arrested.
Meanwhile in Chad Friday, the supreme court moved jurisdiction for the case against the other 18 suspects from Abeche to the capital N’Djamena, a judicial source said, adding that a new judge would be appointed “Monday at the latest”.
Wilmart was originally held and charged in N’Djamena.
[Copyright AFP 2007]
Subject: Belgian news