Deby-Sarkozy Meeting in N’Djamena

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Chad President Idriss Deby Itno meet today French President Nicolas Sarkozy in N’Djamena for a short visit of… 2 hours! They spoke about the “Zoe’s Ark” affair and Sarkozy took back in his plane seven european journalists or fly crew unintentionaly involved in the Affair.

The lightning visit of President Sarkozy in N’Djamena is a proof of the importance he attaches to the “Zoe’s Ark” affair, which could heavily damage France’s image in Chad and even in Africa.

French President Sarkozy only accepted to fly to N’Djamena, when he was sure that he could extract seven journalists and crew members from the Chadien jails, but his fly still reveals his embarrassment over the failed attempt of the “Children Rescue” charity to fly 103 supposed orphans to France, where foster families should have given them a new home.

17 european citizen involved

17 european citizen have been involved in this Affair and caught by Chadien police while accompanying children onto the aircraft in Abéché (eastern Chad). President Sarkozy wanted to secure freedom for those who were not really supposed to be part of this “pitiful escapade” -as he described it today in N’Djamena (a “lamentable équipée”).

The 3 journalists case

3 of them are journalists, covering the journey : Marc Garmirian (from CAPA television news agency), Jean-Daniel Guillou (from Synchro X news agency) and Marie-Agnes Peleran (from the french public channel France 3). Their job was obviously not to choose or rescue the children, but only to cover what was happening there. They were in the classical situation of journalists relating events they don’t take part in… But who want to get the best information in good time!

They have been freed by Chadien examining magistrate earlier this sunday, short before President Sarkozy landed in N’Djamena.

The 4 spanish stewardess case

Freed were also the 4 spanish stewardess who were taken by the police at the same time, just because they were serving on the plane on which the children were to be flown to France. She were obviously not guilty in the “Zoe’s Ark” affair, not even knowing what kind of “humanitarian fly” it would be.

Both journaslists and stewardess could then leave N’Djamena in the afternoon, when Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential Airbus flew back to Paris.

Other european citizen involved

Things willl be different for the ten other european citizen involved. Despite spanish Consul Vicente Mas declaration (saying they were not concerned by the “Zoe’s Ark” deeds) the 3 male members of the aircraft crew still stay in custody in N’Djamena.

Another intricated situation is the case of belgian Jacques Wilmart, the 75-year-old pilot who was in charge of flying the children from Adré (where they were found and choosen) to Abéché (where the “Zoe’s Ark” charity gave them first medical and school assistance). President Deby himself said he was “preoccupied” by his fate. The old pilot, retired from the belgian Sabena company, was enthusiastic about what he described as “his last opportunity to make something useful for Africa“… But he had been misled by the “Zoe’s Arks” leader, Eric Breteau, a suburban Paris fireman, who described the whole operation as a “rescue task”. He could be released for medical and humanitarian reasons.

Now the 6 members of the “Zoe’s Ark” charity, including Eric Breteau, remain in N’Djamena facing kidnapping charges… Difficult to say why they were involved in this “kidnapping”, each of them has his own story and probably his own motive in doing it. Some could really believe that they were helping these children to get a better future outside Darfur. Judges will have a hard job to explain how things happened, and who is really responsible for that…

Charities and governements involved

The main point is that this pitiful experience should not hide the real international mobilization on the Darfur case : for the very first time in the history of the United Nations, international Community will try to stop a civil and ethnic war, that could lead to a “genocide”, both by humanitarian operation and military interference. And for the very first time, the international support to this resolution gives it some chance of success.

It would be a pity if the mediatic noise about the “Zoe’s Ark” would put this important international commitment in danger.

And the most important was of course for President Sarkozy to make sure that this affair could not jeopardise plans to deploy the U.N and A.U. peacekeeping force in Chad and Darfur in the next months.

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By Khaled Elraz, journalist specializing in African societies (communities, rites and traditions). A passionate photographer, he has been traveling the continent for 20 years.
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