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French President Calls Attempt by French Charity to Fly Children from Chad Illegal

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned as illegal an attempt by the French charity Zoe's Arc to fly more than 100 children from the volatile Chad-Darfur border to France.

His press office issued a statement Sunday, saying Mr. Sarkozy contacted his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby to discuss the situation, as well as the fate of nine French citizens arrested in connection with the case.

The French are part of a group of 16 Europeans, including a seven-member Spanish flight crew, detained Thursday on suspicion of trying to smuggle the children out of Chad with the aim of adoption.

A spokeswoman for Zoe's Arc said the organization had acquired proper authorization from Chad officials, adding the group was only trying to save the children from possible death.

A UNICEF spokeswoman, Veronique Taveau, said the attempted flight was in violation of all international rules.

France's Ambassador to Chad Bruno Foucher said the French nationals will have to face Chadian justice.

He called the situation scandalous and said the French government wants to make sure that this will never happen again.

Ambassador Foucher said families in France paid between $4,000 and $8,600 per child to cover evacuation costs.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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