Idriss Deby of Chad threatened to punish the purported French "charity" that attempted to kidnap African children in order to sale them into adoption in the west.
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CHAD PRESIDENT VOWS TOUGH PUNISHMENT OVER KIDNAPPED CHILDREN
Chadian President Idriss Deby vowed Friday to punish those responsible for a failed attempt by a French charity to fly out more than 100 children from Chad.
Nine French people, mostly members of the l'Arche de Zoe (Zoe's Ark) charity, were arrested in Chad on Thursday on suspicion of child trafficking after they attempted to put 103 children on a flight to France.
"Those responsable will be severely punished," Deby said, according to the president's office.
Deby went to visit the children on Friday and he called the plan to fly them out of the country "inhumane," "unthinkable" and
"unacceptable," the president's office said.
French authorities begun an investigation of the charity on Friday and the operation was condemned by French foreign ministry.
But Stephanie Lefebvre, secretary-general of l'Arche de Zoe,
insisted the charity acted out of purely humanitarian motives and denied there was any plan to sell the children for adoption.
PARIS 26 October 2007 Sapa-AP
QUESTIONS SWIRL OVER FAILED OPERATION TO FLY DARFUR CHILDREN TO FRANCE
The warning was dire: "The children will be dead in a few months," said the French charity, speaking about orphans in Darfur. It asked people to help by paying thousands of euros (dollars) to fly them out of the region's turmoil.
Dozens of French families came forward, offering money for the group and a home for the children. But the French government says the scheme was illegal.
The organizers were arrested Thursday in Africa, leaving a swirl of questions: Were they volunteers for a genuine charity, child traffickers - as authorities in Chad who arrested them claim-or simply misguided people driven by a desire to help?
The group, L'Arche de Zoe (Zoe's Arc), says it is a 3-year-old
charity that only wanted to save orphans from Sudan's Darfur region by placing them with French host families. It says it asked host families for 2,400 (US$3,400) to help with logistics and chartering a plane, though some contributed smaller or larger amounts.
"This was about saving children, welcoming them into France,
declaring them to authorities and placing them with host families so they could get on with their lives," said Christophe Letien, a spokesman for the group in France.
France's Foreign Ministry denounced the operation, saying children simply could not be swept out of a country without following the right procedures, including strict international regulations to verify they had no living family members.
Starting months ago, "we told (Zoe's Arc) that we had major
reservations every time they talked to us," Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said. The ministry said it warned
prosecutors about the group's operations in July, and that an
investigation has been opened.
Zoe's Arc recruited support on its Web site with a message reading: "The survival of these children depends on action. Now! The children will be dead in a few months."
The spokesman for Zoe's Arc said it heard that Chadian authorities beat those in custody, including nurses and paramedics. He also said Chad was well aware of its operations and that it had letters from Sudan officials documenting that the children were orphans.
Following the arrests, the children have been taken into the care of Chadian authorities with the support of UNICEF, the International Red Cross and the U.N. refugee agency, French officials said.
French diplomats said there were many questions about the children involved- including their nationalities, and even whether all were truly orphans. The foreign ministry spokeswoman said some host families had initially been told they could adopt the children, though neither Sudan nor Chad authorized such adoptions.
Rama Yade, France's junior minister for human rights, told Le
Parisien newspaper, "Taking them away like that is, from my point of view, illegal and irresponsible."
Nicolai Panke of the International Committee of the Red Cross said the children were being checked for health problems. Next week, authorities will begin searching for surviving relatives who could take them in.
"With the experience we have in Sudanese refugee camps ... there are rarely orphans who are separated from their whole families," he said.
Meanwhile, France's Foreign Ministry expressed sympathy for families who had expected to welcome children into their homes. Dozens of them slept in tents overnight at an airport in Vatry, east of Paris, where they had waited for the children to arrive Thursday.
Pascale Moreau, a mother of five, said she gave the organization 2,000 (US$2,861) to help with logistics, and that she had planned to take in a child.
"Why did I take action?" she said. "Because (the conflict) in Darfur has been going on for four years, and all the humanitarian groups say the same thing, that nothing is improving there."