July 28, 2009 / 1:22 PM / 10 years ago

Morocco and Norway in spat over child custody case

RABAT/OSLO (Reuters) - A child custody battle between a Moroccan former Olympic athlete and his estranged Norwegian wife has strained diplomatic ties after Morocco said Norway helped spirit the two children away from their father.

The children aged 16 and 13 spent time at the Norwegian ambassador’s residence in Rabat last week before they were smuggled out of the country, Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said.

Norway says it did nothing wrong, that the children were held in Morocco against their will and it had feared for their safety. The two have joint Moroccan and Norwegian nationality.

“His Majesty the King’s government denounces the clear involvement of the Norwegian embassy in this illegal exit from national territory,” the Moroccan foreign ministry said in a statement after it summoned the Norwegian ambassador.

It said the Vienna Convention on diplomatic activity had been flouted and accused Norway’s embassy of acting in an inconsiderate manner and making contradictory statements.

Moroccan newspapers said the children were kidnapped from their father Khalid Skah, who separated from his wife Anner Cecilie Hopstock in 2006. Skah won a gold medal in the 10,000 metres at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

“On Sunday last week, the two Norwegian citizens approached the Norwegian embassy fearing for their lives,” said a spokesman for the Norwegian government. “They were therefore accepted into the embassy to stay for a few days.”

He said Hopstock came to take them back to Norway and denied that the Norwegian government had helped them leave Morocco.

“After so many months being concerned for their safety, we are happy they are back safely with their mother,” he added.

Hopstock told Norwegian media that she had travelled with Skah and their children to Morocco in 2006. She said he locked them up in separate rooms and took away their passports.

She returned to Norway in January 2007 and the children were meant to follow but Skah kept them in Morocco.

“This is a sad fate,” Hopstock was quoted as saying by Norwegian paper VG. “I don’t know why his character changed.”

Skah told a Moroccan newspaper he was living with his children in peace and harmony until the Norwegian ambassador came to his house with armed men and kidnapped the children.

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