France investigates orphan mission in Chad

Associated Press
Published November 4, 2007

N'DJAMENA, Chad - The French prime minister on Saturday ordered an investigation into a French charity accused of kidnapping 103 African children from Chad. Seven suspects in the case appeared at a pretrial hearing in Chad's capital.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon asked for an investigation to examine how the group was able to work in Chad without the knowledge of the French Embassy in N'Djamena. A report is expected within a month.

The charity calling itself Zoe's Ark was stopped last week from flying children from eastern Chad to Europe, where the group said it intended to place them with host families. The group says it had determined the children were orphans.

France's Foreign Ministry and others have cast doubt on the claims that the children were orphans from Sudan's war-torn western Darfur region.

Aid workers who interviewed the children said Thursday most had been living with adults whom they considered to be their parents and came from villages on the Chadian-Sudanese border.

The head of the charity was in court Saturday, lawyers said. The purpose of the hearing was not immediately known.

The suspects include six French citizens, who were charged with kidnapping. Authorities also detained French journalists who had accompanied the Zoe's Ark team, along with the crew of the plane they planned to use to take the children to France.