(Reuters) - Chadian authorities charged nine French nationals on Tuesday with abduction and fraud after they were detained trying to fly 103 children to Europe to live with families, Chad’s government said.
Seven Spanish citizens were also charged as accessories to the crimes. The 16 Europeans were detained last Thursday as they tried to fly the African children out of Abeche in eastern Chad. A Belgian pilot was detained separately but not cited in Tuesday’s charges.
Here are some details about the French organization Zoe’s Ark, (L‘Arche de Zoe) which has said it intended to help the children, not abduct them, and that it acted legally.
* The group was created by enthusiasts from the French four-wheel-drive community in the wake of the tsunami that devastated parts of Asia on December 26, 2004. They set up four temporary camps in Banda Aceh in Indonesia.
* The organization 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 Darfur alongside other French charities including Sauver le Darfour (Save Darfur).
* It said it wanted to place orphaned Darfuri children aged under 5 in foster care with French families, invoking its right to do so under international law.
* The general secretary, Stephanie Lefebvre, told the Le Parisien daily last Friday the organization never aimed to have the children in its care adopted, and simply wanted to save them from starvation.
-- A seven-strong team, which included a doctor, a nurse and fire-fighters, was based in Chad. Lefebvre said the group sought authorization 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.