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'Tug-of-love' mother and daughter not in Russia, says diplomat

Latest update : 2009-03-23

A Russian mother and her three-year-old child Elise, who was snatched from her father's care in southern France, are not in Russia, according to a French diplomat in Moscow. France has initiated a continent-wide search for the girl.

AFP - A Russian mother and three-year-old daughter who went missing in France in a "tug-of-love" dispute with the girl's French father are not on Russian territory, a French diplomat told AFP on Sunday.
"The latest information is that they are not on Russian territory," the diplomat at France's embassy in Moscow said, quashing reports the mother and daughter had flown to the Russian capital.
France has initiated a continent-wide search for the girl, Elise, after she was snatched on Friday by two men and a woman while being collected from school by the father, Jean-Michel Andre, who was beaten in the incident.
The father had himself snatched the girl from a street in Moscow last year after the mother, Irina Belenkaya, had taken the daughter from him against his will.
In an interview with AFP after Friday's disappearance, Andre said he was "certain" that the third person in the team that snatched his daughter -- a woman dressed in black and wearing a wig -- was his estranged wife.
Earlier on Saturday, French police said the suspected kidnappers and the girl had boarded a plane bound for Moscow from Switzerland.
But the father later said he had been shown the documents of the travellers thought to be the kidnappers and his daughter and they did not match.
The French prosecutor in the case, Antoine Paganelli, also voiced doubts.
Russian media have noted it is the latest in a series of such custody disputes between French men who have married Russian women, one of which was even discussed by then presidents Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac in 2000.
In Saturday's interview with AFP, Andre said he had managed to spirit Elise out of Russia in 2008 after she was taken there by her mother and vowed he was ready to do so again, even though he is subject to a Russian arrest warrant.
"I will go to Moscow. I will bring her back.... She is my daughter," said Andre, who also appeared on television covered in bruises and with one of his eyes half-closed as a result of his beating.
"If I enter Russia now it would be suicide. You saw what happened to me yesterday," he said. "I have to enter under a false name with a false passport," he told AFP in the interview.
While there was no sign of Belenkaya in Moscow, she too in the past has not been shy of putting her side of the story before the public.
In an appearance on a Russian television chat-show after she lost her daughter last year, she said: "Judging from the father's behaviour, it's completely clear that this man has a maniacal attachment to the child that has absolutely nothing to do with a father's love for his child but with other feelings."

Date created : 2009-03-22