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Woman fails to take 23 kids from Timor


Woman fails to take 23 kids from Timor

November 9, 2007 - 6:29PM

Authorities have stopped a woman from leaving East Timor with 23 children from an orphanage run by an Australian, after a UN agency raised serious concerns.

Police descended on Dili airport on Thursday after the woman approached immigration officials seeking to have the children board a flight to Malaysia.

Authorities had been contacted by the international child rights agency UNICEF about the plan to take the children abroad.

"UNICEF suspected the project's intentions could be shady," said Inspector Elias Mendonca, an immigration adviser to East Timor's State Secretary for Security.

"So a team of UN police was deployed, with UNICEF people."

The woman who sought to take the children out of East Timor was questioned but has since been released. She has been identified as an Indonesian employee of the Eastern Petroleum company.

Authorities are continuing to scrutinise the documents she presented to immigration officers.

The children involved - ranging in age from 10 into their teens - were from the Hadomi Timor Orphans' Foundation.

The orphanage director is Indonesian-born Australian Lala Noronha who was waiting in Malaysia for the children. A priest with the group said an agreement had been signed between the orphanage and a school in Malaysia.

Social Welfare Minister Maria Domingas Fernandes Alves said the children were stopped from leaving East Timor in compliance with laws on the rights of the child.

"The East Timorese government has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child ... and will ensure that the situation is resolved accordingly," she said.

Authorities were carefully assessing documents associated with the trip, she said.

An immigration official said the documents showed that not all the children were orphans.

"Timorese law is very clear. Children under 17 cannot travel abroad without parental consent or without being properly accompanied," the official said.

During the years of Indonesian occupation, East Timorese families had bitter experiences of children taken abroad for education with parental agreement.

Some became estranged from their natural parents after being raised as Muslims. Others have remained with 'adoptive' families who deny access to their birth parents.

Attempts to gain comment from the orphanage were unsuccessful.

© 2007 AAP

2007 Nov 9