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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 November 2007, 22:30 GMT
Seven freed Europeans leave Chad
French PM Nicolas Sarkozy arrives back in Paris with his foreign minister and three journalists
Sarkozy and the three journalists arrived in Paris late on Sunday
Seven Europeans arrested in Chad on suspicion of child-kidnapping have flown home, accompanied by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The plane stopped in Madrid, where four Spanish air hostesses were greeted by PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

It then flew on to France with three French journalists aboard.

Ten Europeans are still being held over an alleged attempt to take 103 African children out of the country. The group claim they were Darfuri orphans.

The claim from the French charity Zoe's Ark, which was behind the attempt to fly the children to France, has been questioned by aid agencies, who say most of the children have families and actually come from Chad.

Presumption of innocence

Six of those still in custody are employees of Zoe's Ark, three others are members of the Spanish air crew, along with a Belgian pilot.

Before leaving the Chadian capital N'Djamena with those who had been freed Mr Sarkozy discussed the case with his counterpart Idriss Deby.

The French president has criticised Zoe's Ark, saying last week that Paris condemned their activities.

But, speaking in Chad, he said that he had urged Mr Deby to respect the right to presumption of innocence for those still in custody.

Mr Sarkozy said he had confidence in Chadian justice and that the two countries would work together to resolve the case.

Footage aired

French television has shown film taken by one of the journalists in the days before he and the rest of the group were arrested.

The BBC's Alasdair Sandford in Paris says that in it a member of Zoe's Ark is shown trying to establish whether the children handed over were orphans, but the film also implies the charity concealed from local people and the authorities its intention to fly them out of the country.

In one sequence fake bandages are applied to the children to simulate a medical evacuation, our correspondent says.

In Paris, hundreds of people have marched in support of Zoe's Ark's members, although some of the families who had paid money expecting to foster African children are preparing legal actions for fraud.

The incident has come at a sensitive time as a French-led European peacekeeping force is due to be deployed in eastern Chad, to prevent the conflict in neighbouring Darfur from spilling over the border.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has asked Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defence Minister Herve Morin to launch an investigation into the affair.

SEE ALSO
'We are not child traffickers'
31 Oct 07 |  Africa
In pictures: Chad abduction row
30 Oct 07 |  In Pictures
Profile: Zoe's Ark
29 Oct 07 |  Europe

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