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Va. Mom Seeking Return of Daughter

May 1, 2000

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) _ When Maureen Dabbagh saw the dramatic photos of Elian Gonzalez being forcibly removed from the home of his Miami relatives, she thought justice had been done.

At least, she said, the 6-year-old Cuban boy had been reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, after only about 180 days. Dabbagh has been waiting more than seven years to see her daughter, who was abducted by her ex-husband and whose whereabouts are unknown.

``All (Attorney General Janet) Reno said is let Dad have him, let him have his son back,″ Dabbagh said. ``It’s no different for me or for any other parent who has had their child abducted. That’s all I want _ my daughter back.″

The Virginia Beach woman hasn’t seen Nadia since October 1992, when the girl was only 2 years old. She hasn’t even seen so much as a photo of Nadia, now 10, since she was taken by Dabbagh’s ex-husband, Mohamad Hisham Dabbagh.

And despite having legal custody of Nadia in both the United States and Syria, Maureen Dabbagh has repeatedly run into roadblocks in her efforts to get her daughter back.

``At least Elian’s father could see that his son was alive and healthy,″ she said. ``There are no recent photographs of my daughter, so I have no assurance that she is really OK.″

Several recent phone calls made to Mohamad Dabbagh at his last known employer in Saudi Arabia were not returned.

Since Nadia was taken, Dabbagh has dedicated much of her time to lobbying politicians, monitoring e-mail and making phone calls in the hope of bringing her child and others like her back to the United States.

She has formed P.A.R.E.N.T. International, or Parents Advocating for Recovery Through Education by Networking Together. Since 1994, the group has helped bring home more than 200 children abducted to foreign countries by one of their parents.

Dabbagh and hundreds of other parents will meet in Washington, D.C., May 11-13 for an international abduction conference. They will also hold a candlelight vigil outside the White House.

But Dabbagh said she has very little hope of getting her daughter back through traditional government channels, citing questionable ties between the U.S. and Syrian governments and a lack of enforcement of child abduction laws in both countries.

Charles Pickett, Dabbagh’s case manager with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said she has worked as hard as any parent he’s ever met to get her daughter back.

``Regretfully, what I have found is that it is hard to find somebody in the other country that’s willing to walk the extra mile to get the child back,″ Pickett said.

Dabbagh says the Clinton administration has essentially ignored two resolutions introduced by U.S. Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., asking for her daughter’s safe return.

So she has taken more drastic measures, including a 36-day hunger strike. But most government officials took little notice, she said.

``It’s as if my government thinks the life of my child is expendable,″ she said. ``If they think the life of my child is expendable, why shouldn’t I risk everything to save her? ... What do I have to lose?″

More than 1,100 active cases of child abduction are now filed with the State Department.

The United States does not give up on any cases involving missing children, but it cannot break the laws of other countries when trying to locate and bring American children home, a State Department official said.

But American parents could use more government support in their efforts to reunite with children abducted to foreign countries, Dabbagh said.

``What I’d like to see is the type of dedication and support offered to Juan Miguel Gonzalez given to every U.S. parent with an abducted child,″ she said. ``Even if a parent got one-tenth of the government’s resources and dedication provided to Elian’s father, there would be a lot more American children back with their parents.″ ___

On the Net:

P.A.R.E.N.T. International Inc.: http://www.lionshouse.org/PARENT/

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: http://www.ncmec.org

U.S. State Department: http://www.state.gov

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