Cautious backing for EU-wide abducted child alerts

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LISBON, Oct 2 (Reuters) EU ministers today gave cautious backing to plans for an EU-wide alert system for abducted children, saying it could be useful in some cases but too many alerts in too many countries might be counterproductive.

Justice and interior ministers from the bloc's 27 countries discussed the plan in the Portuguese capital five months after British four-year-old Madeleine McCann went missing from a holiday resort in southern Portugal.

They agreed to set up a flexible EU-wide alert system for abducted children that would involve media campaigns and an electronic list of missing children accessible to judicial and police authorities, EU President Portugal said in a statement.

''There was an agreement in principle on the proposal, now we need to enter into the details,'' an EU official said.

Diplomats said a number of ministers stressed the need to be selective in deciding when to send an alert and to which countries, noting that many children or teenagers who disappeared returned home in a few days.

''It doesn't make any sense to show the faces of three to five children every day on TV because this has a dulling effect,'' German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said.

She said that in Germany, one in two missing children reappear after three days and added: ''I don't think it's useful to publish alerts in Denmark for a child that has been kidnapped in the south of Italy.'' Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin told reporters he supported a cross-border system but what mattered was the cooperation of neighbouring countries. He said issuing alerts in all 27 countries would not necessarily be useful.

Madeleine McCann's disappearance on May 3 triggered an international search and a high-profile media campaign. Portuguese police have been criticised in Britain for their perceived slow initial response to the girl's disappearance.


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