7 held in plan to fly children from Chad
By ABAKAR SALEH, Associated Press Writer 16 minutes ago
N'DJAMENA, Chad - Seven crew members of a plane contracted to fly more than 100 children out of Chad were detained, authorities said Saturday, and Chad's president promised punishment for anyone involved in a plan to spirit the children to Europe.
President Idriss Deby traveled Friday to the eastern city of Abeche where 103 children were being cared for after authorities arrested nine French citizens, who had attempted to fly them to France. The French aid group L'Arche de Zoe, or Zoe's Arc, said it had arranged French host families for the children. It said they were orphans from Sudan's Darfur region.
But the head of UNICEF France, Jacques Hintzy, said Saturday that many of the children appeared to be from Chad, not Sudan. He also said the children were given bandages to provide the impression their evacuation was health-related, though none was injured.
Late Friday, state television showed Deby visiting with the children, many of them in tears. Deby called the situation "intolerable" and "shocking" and said: "Everyone who is implicated will be punished."
Spanish media reported that seven Spanish crew members, four men and three women, belonging to Barcelona-based air charter company Girjet were detained in Chad and that their passports and mobile phones were confiscated. The company said it had guaranteed transport out of Chad for the kids, but that it was not otherwise involved in the plan, media reported.
Chad's government spokesman, Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor, confirmed that a seven-person air crew was detained, but he had no details on their nationalities. He said all the foreigners would be transferred Monday from Abeche to the capital, N'djamena, where the investigation would continue.
Doumgor said authorities were trying to ascertain the family status of each of the children, and that officials would search the refugee camps along the Chad-Darfur border to find their parents.
Hintzy said the organization was questioning each of the children and it appeared that the 48 questioned so far were Chadian children, not Sudanese.
"Today we spoke to 48 of the 103 and I can tell you that these 48, according to the name of the village they gave us, are all Chadians," Hintzy told RTL radio.
"Our impression is that the majority aren't orphans but at this stage it's just an impression," Hintzy said, adding that UNICEF, the U.N. child protection agency, would try to find the childrens' families.
Rama Yade, France's junior minister for human rights, said the attempted transport of the children was "both illegal from the viewpoint of the law and irresponsible from the moral viewpoint."
"We did everything we could to forbid, to prevent this operation," she said late Friday on France-2 TV.
The ministry warned French citizens months ago against taking in children from Darfur, saying aid groups in the Sudanese region opposed the appeal by Zoe's Arc.
Diplomatic officials have said that such an evacuation mission could infringe on national laws and threatened to exploit the troubles of the children in the region.
Stephanie Lefebvre, secretary-general of Zoe's Arc, said the group asked host families for $3,400 each to pay for the operation's logistics, but that some gave much less. She stressed that the families were not adopting the children, but merely taking them in.
"We just wanted to save them from death, by giving them a host family," she told Le Parisien.
The Darfur region has suffered 4 1/2-years of conflict that has left more than 200,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced.
The violence began when ethnic African rebels in Darfur took up arms against the Arab-led government in 2003, accusing it of decades of discrimination and neglect. The government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed — a charge it denies.