Chad's President Idriss Deby has vowed to punish those responsible for an attempt to fly more than 100 children from Chad to France. A spokeswoman for a charity organization that most of the nine apprehended French people worked with has said their motives were purely humanitarian. They are being held on suspicions of child trafficking. Kari Barber has more from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.
The arrested, who have links to French charity organization Zoe's Ark, were stopped by Chadian security authorities Thursday when they tried to put 103 children on a flight to France.
Friday the children were in the care of United Nations organizations and the International Red Cross in Abeche. President Deby visited the children who are mostly between the ages of three and eight. He has said those responsible for trying to take the children out of the country will be severely punished.
A spokeswoman for the charity told French media that the operation, called Child Rescue, was a bid to save children orphaned by conflict in neighboring Sudan's Darfur region. She says they never intended to sell the children for adoption.
However, Chadian Police official Mahamat Habib Djamaladine says despite the intentions, moving children without permission is illegal.
"We think this is a kind of trafficking of children, of course," he said.
Djamaladine says trafficking is a common problem in Chad, but in this case it is the scale of the suspected trafficking that has him concerned.
"The number of children is very high," said Djamaladine. "Before we had like one, two, three something like that, no more than that. For trafficking to come to this stage, at this level is very worrying."
The nine apprehended, including those with ties to the French charity and several journalists, were in Chadian custody Friday.
A spokeswoman for Zoe's Ark said in an interview with French media that the organization had acquired proper authorization from Chadian officials. She says their motive was just to rescue the children from death.
The French Foreign Ministry denounced the operation in a statement adding that a Paris court is investigating the matter.
Officials say taking children out of their country and into another without authorization breaks international laws. They also say it could further exploit children in the troubled region because there is no way to guarantee that those taken were actually orphans.