Chad children affair breaches international law-UN

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KHARTOUM, Nov 6 (Reuters) The top UN humanitarian official in Sudan condemned European aid workers who tried to take 103 African children from Chad to Europe, saying it contravened UN principles.

''I strongly condemn the actions of the organisation ...

attempting to remove children from Chad,'' Haq said in a last night statement issued .

''Such actions contravene all international laws and standards on the movement of children and infringe on the humanitarian principles we stand for as the United Nations.'' In Geneva, Juan Miguel Petit, UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, called on Chadian and French authorities to investigate.

''I call upon both Chadian and French authorities to fully investigate and shed light about the circumstances surrounding the capture of the children,'' Petit said in a statement on Tuesday.

''Those found responsible for violations of the rights of the child must be brought to justice and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards,'' he added.

Six French members of the Zoe's Ark group were charged in Chad with abduction and fraud, and three Spanish flight crew and a Belgian pilot were charged as accomplices after authorities uncovered a plan by Zoe's Ark to bring what they called orphans from Sudan's Darfur region to European foster families.

But UN and Chadian officials said most of the children were from the Chad side of the border with Darfur and had at least one family member they considered a parent.

AID THREAT Almost 300,000 Darfuri refugees fled across the long and porous border to Chad after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan's central government in early 2003, accusing it of neglect. The violence has also bled across the frontier, with the spread of arms feeding an insurgency in Chad's east.

Relations are tense between the Sudanese government and aid agencies involved in the world's largest aid operation, helping more than 4 million people in Darfur. Many in the aid community feel the actions of Zoe's Ark could make their work harder, increasing suspicion of foreigners working in Sudan.

''In Chad and in Sudan, the UN and national and international organisations have been effectively responding to humanitarian needs,'' Haq added.

''We must continue to work together with partners in government to ensure that advances in child protection, health and education are not derailed by the actions of an individual organisation.'' A visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday prompted the release of three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants, but 10 others remain in jail in Chad.

Sarkozy said today he would return to Chad to bring back the other Europeans arrested.

REUTERS NY RK2130

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