OSLO - Norway's government admitted Monday that one of its diplomats had delivered the two children of former Olympic champion Khalid Skah to a go-between who helped smuggle them out of his native Morocco.
Skah, who won the 10,000 metres at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, had accused the Norwegian embassy in Rabat of abducting the pair and helping their mother organise their clandestine exit from Morocco in July last year.
Oslo admits it temporarily housed Selma, born in 1993, and Tarik, born in 1996, at the ambassador's residence, believing their safety was at risk, but has denied any role in smuggling them out of Morocco.
"A diplomat drove the children a short distance to hand them to a trusted person designated by their mother, who had been awarded custody of them by the Norwegian courts," said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, confirming press reports.
The spokeswoman, Ragnhild Imerslund, insisted this did not amount to complicity in kidnapping or extracting them from the country.
"The children's lives had been threatened. We could not simply release them into the unknown," Imerslund said.
"We did not play any role in the children's escape. That was a private act arranged by their mother despite our advice. We wanted on our side to reach a political and diplomatic solution."
The case has chilled relations between Norway and Morocco, where judicial authorities have launched an official inquiry into the "illegal exit," aimed notably at a Norwegian embassy immigration official.
Skah's former wife, Anne Cecilie Hopstock, a Norwegian, left her husband in 2007 and had been demanding custody of the children, who have dual nationality and are now in Norway.
She has filed charges against him for kidnapping, violence and threats.
According to Skah, Tarik and Selma had lived in Rabat since 2006 and their mother left the next year to return to Norway. He has offered 500,000 dollars to whoever brings his children back to Morocco.
The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang said two special forces officers, led by a former policeman -- the trusted person designated by Hopstock -- helped the children leave Morocco "in their spare time."
The foreign ministry said it knew nothing of the report while the defence ministry said it was not immediately able to comment.