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American mom must leave kids in Saudi Arabia

From Andrea Koppel
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An American woman who sought refuge with her two small children in the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, can leave the country, but without the children, the State Department said Thursday.

Sarah Saga, 24, arrived at the consulate in the southwestern port city of Jeddah seeking protection Sunday, said Ed Vazquez, director of public affairs and policy coordination at the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Vazquez told reporters Saga said she would be in physical danger if she were to return to her Saudi husband of five years.

At no time did the consulate urge her to leave and return to her husband, said Vazquez, who insisted the United States had been "very vigorously engaged" in addressing Saga's case as well as that of another American woman.

The second, unidentified American woman returned to her Saudi husband Tuesday. (Full story)

Vazquez said the charge d'affaires from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh went to Jeddah to help.

Under Saudi law, a husband or father must give permission for his wife or children to travel abroad.

But Vazquez said the U.S. and Saudi governments had recently reached a separate agreement that would allow adult women who are U.S. citizens to leave the kingdom when they want.

Vazquez said Saga and her children were still living in the consulate compound, but that Saga had agreed to turn over custody of her two children, ages 3 and 5, to her husband's family.

It is unclear when Saga would leave for the United States, where her mother lives. Saga has lived in Saudi Arabia since she was 5.

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