Europeans face mob anger over child 'abductions' in Chad
Abeche, Chad (AFP) Oct 30, 2007
Sixteen Europeans charged over the alleged abduction of 103 children faced abuse from angry protesters in eastern Chad Tuesday, as a row escalated in France over the government's failure to prevent their operation.
Nine French nationals, including six members of the charity Zoe's Ark and three journalists, were charged late Monday with "kidnapping minors" and "fraud" for trying to fly the children from the Chad-Darfur border to France, prosecutors in the eastern town of Abeche said.
Seven Spanish aircraft crew and two Chadian nationals were charged with complicity. Spain's foreign ministry said it "disagrees" with the charges and would seek the release of its nationals.
An angry mob of several dozen people gathered outside the court house in Abeche, calling the Europeans "thieves" and "killers" and accusing former colonial power France of being an "accomplice".
An AFP journalist saw the Europeans, in very low sprits, held in a dusty room in the Abeche court ahead of their transfer to the capital N'Djamena.
The French charity workers were wearing fireman's trousers and t-shirts marked "Children Rescue", the name of their operation. Spanish women among the flight crew fought to hold back tears.
Speaking in Corsica, French President Nicolas Sarkozy repeated that the charity workers "were wrong to do what they did" but said he would try to reach an accord with the Chadian authorities.
"We are going to try to find an arrangement to ensure that in this case no one loses face, and find out the exact truth about why they went to pick up these children and what for," Sarkozy said.
The Chadian authorities have accepted that the three French journalists cannot be "treated in the same fashion" as the charity's organisers,
Eric Chevalier, special advisor to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, told RTL radio that the Chadian authorities had accepted the three French journalists cannot be "treated in the same fashion" as the charity's organisers.
But there is a row over the status of one of the three, France 3 television's Marie-Agnes Peleran, who was on compassionate leave at the time of the incident.
The Europeans were detained Thursday as they prepared to put the children on a chartered flight to France. The children were presented as orphans whose lives were at risk from civil war in Sudan's Darfur province.
Aid workers in Abeche have been trying to piece together the background of the children, aged one to 10, who were to be adopted or fostered by families in France each paying 2,800 to 6,000 euros (4,000 to 8,600 dollars).
The UN children's agency UNICEF has said it does not know if they are orphans but France's foreign ministry says it believes they are mostly Chadian and not Darfuris.
Raucous scenes broke out in the French parliament as the opposition demanded the government explain why it allowed the charity's operation to get so far.
"We have got ourselves into an impossible situation and I would like to know exactly what the French authorities' role was," former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius said.
It has been revealed that French military planes in Chad carried charity members on several occasions, while Le Figaro newspaper reported that a government official was due to "welcome" the children upon arrival in France.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon insisted "the foreign ministry did everything to persuade Zoe's Ark not to go ahead," warning it would be breaking the law, but that France and Chad were "tricked by an association that hid under a false name", Children Rescue.
Defence Minister Herve Morin told France 3 that the army was "only doing its job and respecting procedures" when it gave "logistical help" to the charity.
One of the would-be foster parents in France claimed that the only reason the airlift ended in recriminations was because the charity refused to pay a bribe to the local police chief.
"It ended this way because the police chief in Abeche was asking for a colossal sum, a huge bribe, to allow the plane to take off. But Mr Breteau (the founder of Zoe's Ark) refused to pay," said Delphine Charles.
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