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Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 14:57 UK

Girl 'seized by mother' returns

Jean-Michel Andre and daughter Elise at a Budapest airport before flying to France, 14/04/09
Mr Andre took Elise to Budapest airport for a flight to Paris

A French three-year-old girl who has repeatedly been seized by her warring parents has arrived back in France after her mother's arrest in Hungary.

The AFP news agency said the three-year-old girl and her father took a flight to Paris on Tuesday morning.

The girl, Elise, has been at the centre of a custody dispute between her French father and Russian mother.

The girl was abducted by two men who also beat up the father in Arles, southern France, on 20 March.

The father, Jean-Michel Andre, said there was a woman with the men, and he had no doubt it was his estranged wife - Elise's mother - wearing a wig.

Police across Europe were alerted and more than three weeks later, on Sunday, Elise and her mother, Irina Belenkaya, were stopped by Hungarian authorities while trying to cross the border into Ukraine.

An EU database showed that the mother was wanted when a border guard checked it.

The woman was taken into custody while her daughter was taken to a childcare facility where she was reunited on Monday with her father.

"She was very confused," Mr Andre said after being reunited with Elise.

Snatched from Moscow

The girl has been the victim of a protracted battle between her parents.

After a French court awarded the father custody, Elise was whisked to Russia last year by her mother.

Mr Andre made his own way there and grabbed her off a Moscow street, before taking her back to France.

Mr Andre's lawyer, Victor Gioia, said: "He wants his daughter to have a more or less normal life. He does not want another round of trench warfare against the mother."

A French government source told AFP that: "The French authorities, together with the Russian authorities, will try in the next few days to find a solution with the family that is in the child's best interests."

A Russian court has awarded custody to the mother.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "We have in this affair a complex legal clash as courts in both countries have given radically different decisions... This is why we will ask France - I think from today - to have discussions with our experts."



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