NDJAMENA (AFP) — A Chadian prosecutor investigating an alleged bid to kidnap 103 children by a French charity took evidence Thursday from the main suspects, while demonstrators rallied outside the court buildings.
The prosecutor called in the six detained French members of the charity Zoe's Ark for a joint hearing with four local officials from eastern Chad, accused of complicity in the bid to fly abducted children out of the country to be taken in by French families, a legal source said.
Outside, about 100 mainly young people gathered with a banner that read "Sarkozy, justice must be done in Chad".
French President Nicolas Sarkozy sparked anger in Chad when he suggested earlier this week that he would bring the detained French charity workers back to France.
Zoe's Ark has insisted throughout that its sole aim was a "Child Rescue" operation to save war orphans from neighbouring Darfur.
Various non-governmental organisations, including UN agencies, have since cast doubt on whether the children were from Darfur, or indeed orphans.
One of the Zoe's Ark lawyers, Gilbert Collard, said Thursday "all is going well" and that "everybody is answering the prosecutor's questions" during the hearing.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Thursday that the affair underscored the need for all involved to fully respect international law on the protection of children.
Ban expressed support for the Chadian government's efforts to address the children's "immediate needs, attempting to quickly identify and reunite them with the families and ensuring that proper legal processes are followed."
He gave assurances that UN humanitarian aid would continue to flow to vulnerable civilians in Chad.
A total of 17 Europeans were originally detained in the case.
Sarkozy visited visit to Chad on November 4 and returned with three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants.
Still in detention, along with the charity workers are three Spanish cabin crew and a Belgian pilot.
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos on Thursday expressed hopes that the remaining Spaniards would be freed soon.
"We are very active and we hope that this liberation will come as soon as possible.
"The judge has asked for time... and I hope, I wish that the situation will be resolved as rapidly as possible," he said.
Chad is a former French colony where Paris maintains its main central African military base.
The Zoe's Ark workers are accused of fraud as well as abduction and face hard labour jail terms if convicted.
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