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Last Updated: Friday, 9 November 2007, 00:28 GMT
Chad village pines for children
By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Seckata

Adam Ibrahim Adam (r), father of one of the children
Adam Ibrahim Adam was told his son was going to a nearby school
In Chad, the parents of children almost flown to France by the charity Zoe's Ark have told BBC News they were promised they would be educated locally, and never gave permission for them to leave the country.

Most of the 103 children assembled by the charity appear to have come villages near the border town of Adre in Eastern Chad.

Local authorities there have listed 65 children taken from the area. We drove deep into the bush, to the border between Sudan and Chad, to find one of the worst affected villages.

Seckata sits in the shadow of Darfur, which is just 2.5km away. In the past, Janjaweed Arab militia have crossed over on horseback, stealing livestock from the village.

But now this poor remote Chadian community has an even bigger calamity. Twenty-three children were taken from here - none of them orphans. The youngest was just three years old.

Promised visits

Fathers and mothers lined up to meet us.

The mothers blame us for what has happened because we sent the kids away
Adam Ibrahim Adam

They told us they were approached by a local Chadian man, who said the youngsters would be taken to Adre, 11km away, where they would be fed, cared for and enrolled in school.

They were told they could visit every week, once the children had settled in.

That was a particularly attractive offer for the villagers of Seckata, who have no other way of educating their children.

The youngsters used to walk 10km to school every day but two years ago the area became too insecure for them to make the journey.

The offer of schooling persuaded Adam Ibrahim Adam, a white-haired man in a battered hat, who sent his four year old son Youssef. He says the issue is tearing the village apart.

Villagers looking at pictures of the children on a BBC laptop
Familiar faces were spotted in the BBC footage of the orphans

"Education is our priority," he said, "and when it comes to education we never play games. But the mothers blame us for what has happened because we sent the kids away. Now they want to divorce us."

His neighbour Mohammed Abakar Adam is also paying the price for sending his four-year-old son Suleiman. "The mothers are giving us problems," he said.

"They are angry and cannot do anything. Even we men cannot do any work. We are staying in the village all the time and we are very sad."

We brought our laptop to the village, with pictures of some of the 103 children rounded up for transportation to France. They are now stuck in an orphanage in the town of Abeche - that is 171km away, along a badly broken road.

A few parents from the village have already made the trip, hoping to get their children back. Other still in the village crowded around our computer - hoping for a glimpse of their loved ones.

Inconsolable

Soon, familiar faces were spotted - there were three children from Seckata in our footage. Among them was a five-year-old called Alamin.

Parents of missing children in the village of Seckata
Locals say the whole village is grieving for the missing children
At the sight of him his mother, Fatima, clutched her hands to her heart and started to weep. She called for tough penalties for those who took him.

"First they said it was for education," she said. "Now when we discover what is going on, I hate them so much. Killing is too good for those people."

Another mother called Fatma collapsed on the ground - inconsolable because she did not see her son.

Local women clustered around her, covering her face with her yellow shawl and patting her gently in an attempt to calm her. But soon, many of them were weeping with her.

Locals say the whole village is pining. Every time they hear a sound, they think it is the children coming home.

But it could be a long wait. The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, says reuniting families could take weeks, if not months.

Unicef has photographed all the children, and staff will soon begin working their way through the affected villages. But establishing who belongs where will not be easy in a region where only 30% of children are registered at birth.

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