Thursday, November 01, 2007


A group of women lashed out at Europeans charged with child trafficking who allegedly were trying to steal children and take them to France. The protesters (see picture) in the eastern town of Abeche accused France of being involved in the attempt to take the children from Chad, demanding that the Europeans be tried in a Chadian court.

Some members of the NGO Children Rescue/Arche de Zoe have been arrested for attempting to take the 21 girls and 82 boys - the youngest being about a year old and the oldest about 10 - out of Chad. The agency workers were French. Three journalists who were travelling with the volunteer workers and the Spanish crew who were to fly them back to France are also being held. In Chad's capital, N'Djamena, a prosecutor on Wednesday also charged Jacques Wilmart, a Belgian pilot involved in the affair, with "complicity in abduction", before sending him to jail.

Zoe's Ark says it wanted to rescue children from Darfur, but French officials and UN aid workers say they believe many were from Chad and were not orphans.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) called the attempt to separate the more than 100 young Chadian children from their parents and then take them to France for adoption an "illegal and totally irresponsible move." The UN said the children had family in the country.

"They are not orphans and they were not sitting alone in the desert in Chad, they were living with their families in communities," Annette Rehrl of U.N. refugee agency UNHCR told Reuters in Abeche.

UNICEF spokesperson Veronique Taveau told journalists in Geneva that what happened had violated international rules, such as The Hague Convention on international adoption and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Taveau said the case was not an isolated incident but one that was highly visible because of the size of the group of children.

L'Express reports the Europeans offered sweets and biscuits to encourage the children to leave their homes.

"My parents had gone to work in the fields. As we were playing some Chadians came and said here are some sweets, why don't you follow us to Adre and then we'll take you home. We were taken to the hospital in Adre," said a young boy who gave his name as Osman. Adre is a town on the Chad-Sudan border.

"We spent seven days in Adre and I've been here in Abeche for more than one month. We were well fed by the whites, there was always food. I would like to go back to find my parents," he told reporters at the Abeche orphanage where the children are being cared for by local and international aid workers.

Ten-year-old Mariam, who was one of the group along with her younger sister, said their mother was dead but their father was still alive. "A car came with two whites and one black man who spoke Arabic. The driver said come with me, I'll give you some money and biscuits and then I'll take you home," she said. "We were taken to the white people's house and they gave us medicine - small white tablets. I was not ill. All the children were given pills. They told us that we would no longer be able to go home," Mariam said.

Radio Netherlands says Paris is at a loss as to what to do about the arrest in Chad of French citizens and how to deal with lots of unanswered questions about what's become known as the 'ZoƩ's Ark affair'.

The French government has condemned the abduction, yet its own role in the affair is far from clear.

There had been doubts about this charitable organisation, set up by French firefighter Eric Breteau, for some time.

Because of the incident authorities in the Republic of Congo have suspended the international adoption of children to ensure the interests of such children are protected.

The following comes from AFP via Sudan at Note: I think the use of the word "mob" in the article belows title to describe the women protesters is a bit much.

Chadian mob hits out at European Slave traffickers

Hundreds of Chadian women Wednesday hurled abuse at 16 Europeans charged over a French charity's plan to airlift 103 children it called war orphans from the Darfur border, accusing them of "child trafficking".

Protestors threw stones at foreign journalists in the desert nation's main eastern town of Abeche, yelled slogans accusing the former colonial power of a role in an alleged bid to abduct children to France, and demanded the Europeans face Chadian justice.

"No to the slave trade! No trafficking in children!" they chanted. "We want those responsible to be tried in Abeche!" one woman shouted out.

Nine French nationals -- six members of the charity Zoe's Ark and three journalists -- face a forced labour sentence on charges of kidnapping and extortion, while seven Spanish flight crew are charged with complicity.

In Chad's capital, N'Djamena, a prosecutor on Wednesday charged a Belgian pilot involved in the affair, Jacques Wilmart, of "complicity in abduction" and sent him to the city jail.

The charity says it hoped to save children from Sudan's Darfur region but French officials and UN aid workers say they believe many were from Chad and were not orphans.

Wilmart, 75, made several flights ferrying the children between Adre on the Sudan-Chad border and the eastern town of Abeche. Before his arrest on Sunday, he told AFP the children were "in very bad shape".

The retired pilot from Belgian's former flagship Sabena, also told legal sources while still in police custody that Zoe's Ark had contacted him for a "humanitarian mission" and he had agreed to do it voluntarily.

Would-be foster parents in France had paid several thousand dollars each to receive a child and some have expressed anger at the child trafficking charges, hurt at the outrage and hope that any trial will take place in France.

The government is in the firing line for failing to prevent the operation after it emerged the French army provided the charity members, who include a doctor and volunteer firefighters, with assistance in Chad.

Apart from the 17 Europeans, a Chadian deputy district administrator and a community chief have been arrested and charged with complicity in alleged abductions.

The case ignited tension with Paris, which is about to take the helm of a European peacekeeping force in Chad to protect hundreds of thousands of Darfur refugees and Chadians displaced by rebel insurgency and ethnic strife.

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, a regional power broker close to Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno, offered to mediate, but the French foreign ministry declined "his willingness to help".

President Nicolas Sarkozy said there was currently "no question" of accepting, since he was in direct contact with Deby.

Sarkozy repeated he "unambiguously" condemned the operation but suggested he would seek to have the members of Zoe's Ark -- which is under investigation in France for illegal adoption -- tried in France.

"I think that by clearly putting the Chadians and the French around the table, since the investigation was first opened in France... well you can imagine what my preference would be," he told reporters in Corsica.

Sarkozy also said he would ask Deby to acknowledge the "presumption of innocence" of the French nationals, "especially the journalists whom I would like to see returned -- those at any rate whom we know did not apparently partipate in the activites of the association."

Deby's cabinet director, Mahamat Hissene, told French RFI radio the location of the trial had yet to be decided "and we have no fixed position on the matter."

A French diplomat said negotiations in hand were "about discussion, not about making demands, which could cause tensions."

Spain is also seeking the release of its nationals, the crew of the aircraft chartered for the operation, who are accused of complicity.

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