Stephen M. Silverman
October 17, 2006 08:20 AM

The 13-month-old Malawian boy Madonna is hoping to adopt arrived in London Tuesday en route to be reunited with the singer.

David Banda arrived at London’s Heathrow airport at about 6:20 a.m. aboard a British Airways 747 from Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. With him were one of Madonna’s bodyguards and a female aide, described by the BBC as the singer’s personal assistant, who upon arrival shielded the baby from photographers with a coat.

Inside Heathrow, three armed police officers, along with airline and airport officials, escorted the party to the baggage-claim area, an observer tells PEOPLE. Some 10 minutes later, the group was led out through a back door, where they boarded a silver Mercedes SUV and drove away.

On Monday, David was flown via private plane from Malawi to South Africa, PEOPLE confirmed.

Earlier this month a Malawi court granted Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie granted temporary custody of David for 18 months. The couple arrived in Malawi on Oct. 4 and went home to England on Friday without boy, who did not have a passport.

Madonna’s publicist, Liz Rosenberg, confirmed Monday that David had been granted a passport and visa, the BBC reports. “It is expected that the family will be reunited within the next few days,” Rosenberg said in a statement, adding that Madonna was “going to do her best to not make it a public circus.”

During the temporary custody Madonna and Ritchie “will be evaluated by the courts of Malawi per the tribal customs of the country,” the statement said.

A Madonna aide carries David Banda through Heathrow on Oct. 17

A consortium of human rights organizations is protesting the adoption, charging that the Malawi government bent the rules to allow Madonna to foster David outside the country.

The Human Rights Consultative Committee had planned to seek an injunction Monday halting the adoption, but postponed the move, saying it wanted to interview an uncle of David’s who opposed the adoption, the BBC reports.

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