Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 23:21 GMT
Many Rwandan children were evacuated to Europe
An Italian priest has rejected demands by the Rwandan Government to have 41 children adopted in Italy after the 1994 genocide sent back home.
The priest, Don Roberto Lombardi who organised the adoption said that the children had been legally adopted after attempts to find their relatives had failed.
His view was supported by an Italian court which had been asked to rule on the issue.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame wants the children back saying they have been adopted against the wishes of their surviving relatives.
The priest said that it was unfair to send back the children.
„These children were orphans and put in our care by their grandparents even before the genocide, or were otherwise abandoned at the orphanage.“
„We didn’t pick them up by accident, we didn’t steal them,“ he said.
President Kagame said the matter was a „state issue“, after having made an unsuccessful attempt to have the children returned during a recent visit to Rome.
„I don’t see… how adoption can come before the right of a family to have back their children just because they live in a poor country,“ he said.
He told journalists that Rwanda could hardly go to war with Italy but threatened legal action to bring Rwandan children home.
He accused Italian officials of showing contempt for African poverty.
Italy’s Foreign Ministry described the issue as „a complicated affair,“ and said the government was „waiting to get the maximum information before responding to the harsh comments of President Kagame.“
„This is a legal problem, because these children were adopted legally,“ a foreign ministry source said.
The 41 children have been traced by their Rwandan relatives to the town of Castenedolo near Milan.
The mayor of the town says that the children, now aged between six and 10, are happily settled and a move would be disruptive and unhelpful.
During the genocide many children were rescued by aid workers and taken to Europe, and in the past four years, dozens of Rwandan children have been returned home.
However, the Rwandan government recently allowed 15 children to remain with their adopted parents in France, agreeing they were too traumatised to return.