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Chad Questions 16 Europeans for Alleged Child Trafficking

Lisa Bryant

Chad has detained 16 Europeans for questioning about an alleged mission to bring children from Africa to France for adoption. Those detained - nine French and seven Spanish - may face charges for what Chad's president calls a "kidnapping." Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

The murky tale of a botched effort to fly out than 100 children from Chad to France has blown into a diplomatic issue. Late Sunday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy strongly condemned the operation by French charity Zoe's Ark as "illegal and unacceptable." And, Chadian President Idris Deby denounced it as "straightforward kidnapping."

The Europeans, are reported to include six French members of the charity, three journalists and seven Spanish crew members of a plane that was to fly the children from Chad to France. They are in detention in the Chadian city, Abeche, and may face charges.

Zoe's Ark claims it was sending the children to host families in France to save them from the crisis in the Sudanese region, Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and displaced. But it appears that many of the children may be Chadian, not Sudanese.

The matter has taken on partisan tones in France, where Francois Holland, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, condemned the way Mr. Sarkozy's center-right government handled the issue.

In an interview on France-Info radio Monday, Holland says French diplomacy should have prevented the Zoe's Ark operation, from the start. Holland says France must not only condemn it, but also make sure Chad's president does not use it as a means to pressure France on the Darfur issue.

The French government says it was aware of the Zoe's Ark plans and had urged both charity and Chadian authorities to stop the operation.

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