Chad releases seven Europeans held in alleged kidnap plan

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Earlier today, the government of Chad set free three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants, who had been held since October 25. Chadian authorities had been investigating the role of the seven and 14 other suspects with regard to an attempt to fly 103 African children to Europe for placement with host families.

The release of the seven came as French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Chad to hold talks on the case with Chadian officials. The lawyer for the seven, Jean-Bernard Padare, told Reuters that the seven were free to collect their belongings from the courthouse. "They are happy, they are free," said Padare. "It's the end."

A French charity, Zoe's Ark, had arranged for the 103 children to be flown out of Chad in an attempt to rescue them from the humanitarian crisis created as a result of the neighbouring Darfur conflict. However, Chadian officials have since described the operation as "kidnapping" and "extortion", while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revealed that many of the children involved were not orphans.

According to Radio France, Eric Breteau, the founder of Zoe's Ark charity, spoke at a pretrial hearing in N'Djamena, Chad and stated that the seven released Europeans had not been involved with the charity's plans.

Ten other Europeans are still being held in Chad and are facing child abduction and fraud charges.