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Seven Europeans Released in Chad Kidnapping Case


Seven of the 17 Europeans detained in Chad on kidnapping charges were released Sunday and left the central African country with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports 10 others and 4 Chadians are still detained in the murky affair.

In a joint press conference in N'Djamena with Chad's president, Idriss Deby, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he respected the Chadian justice system and criticized the operation by the French Zoe's Ark Charity to fly more than 100 African children to safety in France.

In remarks broadcast by France's LCI television, Mr. Sarkozy said the 10 Europeans still jailed in Chad on kidnapping charges should nonetheless be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He said a French judge would be flying to Chad shortly to help resolve the matter.

Those released included three French reporters and four Spanish crew members of an operation launched by Zoe's Ark to take 103 children to France, where they were to be cared for by French families. They were detained more than a week ago, along with members of the charity, shortly before trying to fly out of Chad.

The charity said the children were orphans from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region but humanitarian organizations and the French government suggest many may be from neighboring Chad - and may not all be orphans. President Deby argued their act was nothing short of kidnapping.

Footage of the botched operation shot by one of the detained reporters was aired Sunday in France by the local M6 television channel. It suggests Zoe's Ark deliberately aimed to deceive Chadian authorities about their operation.

But supporters of the journalists and the crew members argue they had nothing to do with the matter. Four crew members, including the Belgian pilot, remain in detention.

President Sarkozy's intervention was the second in an international issue since taking office this year. In July, he sent his former wife Cecilia to Libya to try to secure the release of Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of deliberately infecting children with AIDS. They were released shortly after.

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