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Chadian Authorities Release 4 More Europeans in Alleged Child Abduction Case

A lawyer representing the airplane crew involved in an illegal adoption case in Chad says the three Spanish crew members and Belgian pilot have been released. The four had faced charges of complicity in an alleged attempt by a private humanitarian group to fly more than 100 African children to foster families in France. For VOA, Naomi Schwarz has more on the story from Dakar.

Jean-Bernard Padare, a lawyer for the Spanish crew members and the Belgian pilot, told VOA by phone from Chad's capital N'Djamena, that the crew will return home Friday. He said he left the Spanish men with their ambassador Friday morning, and a special plane was flying them to Spain.

The Belgian pilot, who suffered heart problems on Thursday night, had been transferred to a French military base. Padare said is being transported in a separate, medical plane, with a doctor on board.

The four men were released after being arrested along with six workers from French charity Zoe's Ark on October 25. Zoe's Ark came to Chad three months ago, they said to rescue orphans from the Darfur conflict in neighboring Sudan. They say they planned to fly the children to France to be placed with foster families.

But Chad authorities said the children were not orphans and had been abducted. The children have told aid workers from the Red Cross and the United Nations they have families. The children are still in the care of the aid workers who are searching for their relatives.

Defense lawyer Padare said testimony from Zoe's Ark's detained leader confirmed the aircrew did not have any role in the organization's activities in Chad. Padare said the judge ruled the crew members were there simply to operate the aircraft; and in the end, since they were arrested before the plane took off, the crew did not even transport any children.

Padare said the judge is still investigating whether the aircrew's boss, who signed the contract with Zoe's Ark, was aware of what the organization was planning. He said the crew member's release is provisional. Spanish authorities have promised if the judge needs to question the men again, they will return to Chad.

But Padare said he believes, for the aircrew, the ordeal is over. And he said the four men are very relieved. They were overcome with emotion, he said, because they were very upset to be considered part of a plot to hurt children, when in fact they had no idea what was going on.

The six French aid workers still face kidnapping charges in Chad. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has asked they be released to face trial in France. If convicted in Chad they could face between 5 and 20 years of forced labor.