Chadian authorities are charging 16 Europeans and two Chadians of being complicit or involved with kidnapping in relation to an effort by a French charity to fly more than a hundred children from Chad to France. For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.
Chadian authorities charged six members of the French charity Zoe's Ark with kidnapping late Monday in the eastern city of Abeche, where they are being held after a failed attempt to fly 103 children from Chad to France.
According to news reports, Chad's justice minister said three French journalists and seven Spanish crew members from the flight will also face charges of complicity in the alleged kidnapping. Those charged will reportedly be transferred to Chad's capital, N'Djamena, this week.
Zoe's Ark claims it was trying to fly orphans from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, across the Chadian border, to France where families are ready to care for them. But it does not appear the children are Sudanese, nor is it clear that they are orphans.
Chad's President Idriss Deby denounced the effort as "straightforward kidnapping." The French government has also harshly criticized the charity and is investigating its operations in France.
But the Spanish government has called for the presumption of innocence to be respected in the case. And Leonard Vincent, head of the Africa desk at the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says the journalists should not be charged.
"We're trying to pass a message to the Chadian government; we've been doing that since they've been arrested," Vincent said. "And this message is they are neutral, and their case should not be mixed up with those of the members of the association. It's very different. They are observers. They are not actors in this operation."
But Vincent says Chadian authorities are so furious at Zoe's Ark they are looking at every angle of the attempted operation.
The charges come at a delicate time. The European Union is preparing to send a peacekeeping force to Chad and the Central African Republic to assist refugees on the borders with Darfur. But French officials say they have received assurances from Mr. Deby that the Zoe's Ark affair will not affect these plans.