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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 18:32 GMT
Belgian girls plead to leave Iran
Zarah Pourhashemi, the girls' mother, meets Foreign Minister Louis Michel
The Belgian Government hopes it can count on good ties with Iran
Two young girls with joint Belgian and Iranian nationality have taken refuge in the Belgian embassy in Tehran in a bid to be allowed to return to Europe.

The girls - aged 14 and six - say they were taken to Iran by their father after their parents' divorce and want to return to their mother in Belgium.

They escaped from his house on Tuesday and took a taxi to the embassy.

Belgium has offered them its "total protection" but is seeking to avoid a row with Iran.

I am prepared to leave for Iran in a second in order to negotiate a humane end to this situation
Louis Michel
It issued an international arrest warrant for the father on charges of kidnapping after he took Yasmine Pourhashemi and her younger sister Sara to Iran following a holiday in Greece in August of this year.

Foreign Minister Louis Michel said he was prepared to go to Iran to help and was trying to contact his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

"We absolutely owe these kids total protection," he told Belgian media.

"I am prepared to leave for Iran in a second in order to negotiate a humane end to this situation."

However, he could not travel to Iran, he said, without an invitation from the authorities there - "otherwise it would look like a provocation".

Mother 'has no rights'

Mr Michel has already met the girls' mother, Zarah, who lives in the eastern Belgian city of Liege and has legal custody over them.

The minister said the girls had two people constantly looking after them inside the embassy.

Zarah told Belgian media that she had spoke to one of her daughters by telephone and they were both "doing fine".

She said that her divorce had no legal bearing in Iran and "a woman is moreover not allowed to leave the country without permission from her husband".

Mr Michel said he was counting on his good ties with the Iranian foreign minister to obtain permission for the girls' departure and he argued that Belgium was the EU country which had done most to foster good ties with Iran.

Belgium's Le Soir newspaper reports that there are no agreements concerning parental abduction between the two countries and the case of Yasmin and Sara is reportedly the first of its kind between them.

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Country profile: Iran
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Country profile: Belgium
31 Aug 03  |  Country profiles

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