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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 22:57 GMT
Chad parents await child row outcome
By Stephanie Hancock
BBC News, Abeche, eastern Chad

People missing children in Abeche, Chad
People missing children gather at the courthouse in Abeche

Anxious parents are standing on the steps of the main courthouse in Abeche, waiting for news of their missing children.

They stand patiently in the midday heat, staring silently as the public prosecutor explains the long legal process to check whether any of the people here might be related to the 100 children at the centre of a kidnapping row.

These people have travelled for miles to get here - for the most part they live in villages on the Chad-Sudan border and came to Abeche after hearing about the arrests of the French aid workers on the radio.

Hamis Adam Haroun is looking for seven youngsters missing from his family - three belonging to him and four to his brother.

Hamis says he let the children leave in the company of a Chadian man, who said foreign aid workers were offering free education in a nearby town.

They told us 'we are taking your children to Abeche to go to school, we will bring them back in one week'
Halimi, widow

"We heard a charity was coming to teach children," said Hamis.

"In our village there are no teachers or school - due to insecurity they have all left.

"We thought as the children were here with nothing to do, it was preferable they would go to school.

"We were told they would learn the Koran as well as French - that's why we accepted for them to go."

No guarantee

Some of the people here recall foreigners coming to their village, again to offer vulnerable youngsters a free education.

Halimi, a widow, says three of her children have been missing since white people came to her village some weeks ago.

She travelled for six days to get here from her village on the border.

Map of Chad and Sudan

"Six people came to the village, including four French - two of them were women," said Halimi.

"They told us 'we are taking your children to Abeche to go to school, we will bring them back in one week'."

There is no guarantee any of the people here are related to the 100 children at the centre of this scandal.

The government has so far refused to let any parents inside the orphanage where the children are being housed.

Hawa is from Tine, a town on the Chad-Sudan border, and says she is searching for news of two missing children.

"I was not there when they came - I was working in the fields," she said.

"They found my four children. They explained to them they would take the two younger children to give them schooling in Abeche.

"The message was that the children would really be taken care of - that I should not worry.

"If I wanted to visit my children I could go every week.

"But I was worried immediately. I took a lorry straight away and came here."

Charges

UN agencies have just released a report saying the majority of children now in their care appear to have at least one family member they consider as a parent, or close relative.

President Idriss Deby
Visiting President Idriss Deby offered hope to some prisoners

"Ninety-one of them told us they had been living with their family and that they'd like to go back to their family," said Annette Rehrl, of the UN refugee agency.

"The next step will be to trace the families to reunify the children with them."

The charity at the centre of the scandal, Zoe's Ark, had claimed the children they were trying to fly to France were orphans from Darfur.

But as more and more details of this shocking case emerge, it is no longer clear quite where these children are really from.

A total of 17 Europeans have now been charged with child kidnapping - and they will shortly be transferred to the capital, N'Djamena, for trial.

During a brief visit to Abeche on Thursday, President Idriss Deby offered a glimmer of hope to some of the prisoners, saying that five Spanish air hostesses and the three French journalists involved in the case should be freed as soon as possible.

But there was no such good news for the three pilots in the case and the six French members of Zoe's Ark.

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