Chad frees seven Europeans caught up in adoption row

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Chad freed seven Europeans yesterday as the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, arrived in the capital, N'Djamena, to discuss the case of 10 other detainees accused of an alleged plan to kidnap 103 African children.

Jean-Bernard Padare, a lawyer acting for the detainees, said those freed were three French journalists and four flight attendants from Spain, .

The Europeans, including nine French citizens, were arrested on 25 October when a charity called Zoe's Ark was prevented from flying the children from eastern Chad to Europe, where the group said it intended to place them with host families.

Chad's President, Idriss Deby, greeted M. Sarkozy yesterday as the French leader descended the steps of his official jet.

The Elysée Palace in Paris said in a statement that Mr Sarkozy and Mr Deby would discuss "the situation of our compatriots and the other European citizens being prosecuted" on kidnapping charges. Zoe's Ark maintains its intentions were purely humanitarian and it had investigated over several weeks to determine the children were orphans.

But France's Foreign Ministry and others have cast doubt on the group's claims that the children were orphans from Sudan's western Darfur region, where fighting since 2003 has forced thousands to flee to Chad and led directly or indirectly to the deaths of more than 200,000 people.

Aid workers who interviewed the children said most had been living with adults they considered their parents and came from villages on the Chadian-Sudanese border region.

A report in Le Parisien quoted men who said they were the fathers of several of the children as saying the group had offered to educate their children.

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