Chad frees 7 Europeans after Sarkozy intervenes in 'orphan' airlift case

[JURIST] Chadian authorities Sunday freed seven Europeans - three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants - held in connection with a French charity's attempted airlift from Chad of 103 children alleged to be Darfur orphans. French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile] flew to Chad Sunday to personally intervene with the Chadian government over its handling of the case and returned to Paris with the seven on his official jet. Ten other Europeans remain in jail in Chad and will stand trial [JURIST report] for charges of fraud and child abduction. The charges stem from an attempt by French charity Zoe's Ark [advocacy website, in French; BBC backgrounder] to fly 103 children believed to be Darfur orphans [ZA backgrounder, in French] from Chad to France, where they would be placed with French families. In the Chadian capital of N'Djamena Sunday, Sarkozy told reporters that he wants the charged French nationals to be tried in France. Chadian President Idriss Deby said that the issue was 'purely a judicial problem' and did not impact overall relations between Chad and France, the African country's former colonial power. Bloomberg has more.

Sarkozy's trip came on the heels of an announcement by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Saturday ordering an investigation into Zoe's Ark. The investigation will determine how the group was able to operate in Chad without the knowledge of the French embassy in N'Djamena. Two UN agencies and the Red Cross have determined [press release] that the children to be airlifted were actually not orphans, as originally claimed by Zoe's Ark. Most of the children, aged one to 10, came from villages in Chad [JURIST news archive] near the Sudan border. Some parents have said they were persuaded by foreigners to give up their children in return for promised education in nearby towns. The botched flyout occurred just before the European Union planned to deploy a 4,000-man peacekeeping force [IHT report] in Chad and the Central African Republic [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to aid in the refugee crisis created by the conflict in neighboring Sudan. Reuters has more. Le Parisien has local coverage.

 

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