The crisis over the alleged kidnapping of more than 100 children by French charity workers in Chad is escalating into a diplomatic dispute. The Chadian government is accusing the nine French and seven Spanish citizens of illegally trying to fly the children to Europe. They deny the accusations claiming they were trying to offer a better life to orphans from the Darfur conflict who had taken refuge in Chad.
The French government is under pressure to explain how much it knew about the planned evacuation and why it didn’t act to stop it.
Paris has condemned the charity and says it had warned the group that what it was planning was illegal.
“They were wrong to do what they did,” said French president Nicolas Sarkozy. “I have spoken to president Déby on the phone. I have told him that France condemns such activities and we will try to find agreement so that neither side loses face.”
The seven Spaniards were crew members of the plane chartered for the operation and have been charged as accessories to the alleged crime.
Madrid disagrees with the charges against them and is demanding they be freed.
Bernardino Leon of the Foreign Ministry said: “For the moment, there is no evidence against them. Until proven otherwise, the government considers them innocent and is demanding their release.”
The dispute erupts less than a month before a French-led EU peacekeeping force is due to deploy in Chad and the neighbouring Central African Republic to protect civilians and aid workers from the violence spilling over from Darfur.