Sat, Nov 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Chadian kids identified, held as probe continues

AFP , ABECHE, CHAD

The 103 children caught up in an abduction scandal in Chad wait at an orphanage, unable to return home despite most having been identified as the probe continues into the French charity accused of trying to spirit them to Europe.

They spend their time playing games and they cry far less than they did when they first arrived late last month, officials said.

The youngest among the children is 14 months, the oldest nine. Many are under five.

"Sixty-five children have been identified and their identity verified," said Honore About, head of the team identifying the children and looking for their parents.

But even they cannot return home yet since it is up to the authorities in the capital N'Djamena, where the child abduction investigation has been unfolding, to determine when they can be released.

Six French workers from the Zoe's Ark charity, which attempted to fly the children out of Chad to France, remain in jail in Chad in connection with the case.

Zoe's Ark says the children were orphans from neighboring Sudan's war-torn Darfur region who it planned to place in foster care with families in Europe.

But Chad says the group did not have permission to take the children out of the country, and aid agencies who have since cared for them said most of the youngsters are Chadian and have at least one living parent.

Identifying all the children is expected to take time, and Chadian officials are working with limited resources.

Some of the children don't know their full names, About said.

Much depends on observation, and officials rely on children's reactions when identifying parents.

"When someone says they are a father or mother of a child ... we bring them to the orphanage, we put them in a corner, and we bring in the children," the prosecutor said. "If a child goes to the person, that means a lot."

One of the children, Abakar Mahamat Adam, who said he didn't know his age, was puzzled by the circumstances that brought him to the orphanage.

"White people brought us here," he said.

"They said that they were going to bring us to school," Adam said.

His father has come to Abeche, but the boy wants to return to his Chadian village near the border with Sudan.

"Here, things are good," he said. "There, it's better."

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