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Spanish minister heads to Chad

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Spanish minister heads to Chad

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A top Spanish Foreign Ministry official left Madrid early Friday in a jet bound for the impoverished central African country of Chad, where three Spanish flight crew members remained in detention for allegedly plotting to kidnap African children for adoption in Europe, a foreign ministry spokesman told CNN.

CNN's Spanish partner network CNN Plus reported a Chadian judge had signed a release order for the three Spaniards -- a charter airline pilot, first officer, and flight attendant -- and indicated their release was imminent.

Foreign ministry officials who spoke with CNN and CNN Plus were more cautious, saying only that they were working to achieve the release of the three, who have been held in Chad for two weeks.

The three Spaniards were among 21 people arrested as they tried to fly 103 children out of Chad on a plane bound for France. Chadian authorities said the group, organized by French-based charity Zoe's Ark, was kidnapping the children in an adoption scheme.

The charity said the group was on a mission to rescue orphans from Darfur, but aid agencies have said it appears most of the children were not orphans and were instead from Chad.

A Chadian judge released seven of the 21-member group on Sunday after French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to the country to press for their release. The seven included three French journalists and four other members of the Spanish flight crew, all female flight attendants.

Thursday, the head of Zoe's Ark testified before a judge in Chad that the three Spaniards who remained in custody from the charter plane company had no responsibility in the affair, the foreign ministry spokesman told CNN.

Early Friday, the foreign ministry's second-ranking official, Secretary of State Bernardino Leon, departed Torrejon air force base near Madrid for Chad, the spokesman said.

All seven members of the Spanish flight crew, who work for the Spanish charter company Gir Jet, had been charged with complicity in the alleged kidnapping plot, which they denied.

The three Spaniards who remained in Chad were being held along with the six French charity workers from Zoe's Ark, a Belgian pilot, and four Chadian nationals.

Sarkozy has said he hopes the French nationals would face trial in France, rather than in Chad.

Aid agencies were trying to reunite the children with their families, a difficult task because many of the children are so young and could provide few or no details about their families. The-CNN-Wire/Atlanta/+1-404-827-5872

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http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/africa/11/09/chad.spain/index.html

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Wow! A leader is actually doing something! Go Spanish Minister dude!
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