FACTBOX-What is Zoe's Ark?

Fri Nov 9, 2007 12:34pm EST

Nov 9 (Reuters) - Chad on Friday released three members of a Spanish air crew and a 74-year-old Belgian pilot who had been detained over an attempt by a humanitarian activist group to fly 103 African children to Europe, their lawyer said.

Friday's release brought to 11 the number of Europeans freed after being arrested late last month in eastern Chad.

Six members of the French group Zoe's Ark are still in custody in Chad and face trial after being charged with fraud and abduction for trying to fly children they said were Darfur orphans to families in Europe.

Chad says Zoe's Ark did not have permission to take the children out of the country. U.N. officials say almost all of the infants aged 1-10 came from villages on the Chad-Sudan border and had at least one living parent.

Here are some details about Zoe's Ark, (L'Arche de Zoe).

* The group was created by a group of French motoring enthusiasts in the wake of the tsunami that devastated parts of Asia on Dec. 26, 2004. They set up four temporary camps in Banda Aceh in Indonesia.

* The organisation has a president, Eric Breteau, and a general secretary and around 50 active volunteers.

* In April, Zoe's Ark announced a campaign to evacuate 10,000 orphans from Sudan's Darfur region alongside other French charities including Sauver le Darfour (Save Darfur).

* It said it wanted to place orphaned Darfuri children under the age of 5 in foster care with French families, saying it had a right to do so under international law.

* The general secretary, Stephanie Lefebvre, told the Le Parisien daily last month the organisation never aimed to have the children in its care adopted, and simply wanted to save them from starvation.

* A seven-member team, which included a doctor, a nurse and fire-fighters, was based in Chad. Lefebvre said the group sought authorisation from French authorities to grant safe passage to the children it intended to bring back to France, so Zoe's Ark could seek the right of asylum for them.

* France's Foreign Ministry had issued a warning about Zoe's Ark in August, saying there was no guarantee the children were helpless orphans and casting doubt on the project's legality.

* A French journalist arrested with the group said after being freed that Zoe's Ark had displayed "dramatic amateurishness" and lied about their plans to send the children to France.

Sources: Reuters/www.archedezoe.fr