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Chad Adoption Trial Resumes as Children Wait to Go Home


The trial of six French aid workers in Chad has resumed following a one day break. The Zoe's Ark charity workers are charged with abducting 103 children, who were originally said to be Sudanese orphans from Darfur. As Jade Heilmann reports from our West, Central Africa bureau in Dakar, the children at the center of the scandal are still being held at an orphanage.

Representatives for some of the families took the witness stand on the third day of the trial in N'djamena, accusing the Zoe's Ark charity workers of stealing their children. The families are asking for the equivalent of $440,000 in compensation for each child.

One of the six French aid workers, nurse Nadia Merimi, had to be taken by ambulance to the capital's French military base after fainting in the court room.

The six aid workers have been on a hunger strike since December 7. They say they are innocent of the charges.

Meanwhile, the 103 children Zoe's Ark was trying to take to France are still being held at an orphanage in Abéché.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Annette Rehrl, says the Chadian court must approve the children's release before they can be sent home.

"All the families are identified. The families want them back as soon as possible and the children want to go back to their parents as soon as possible as well," she said. "But the Chadian Minister of Justice and local authorities just wanted to wait for the final go ahead from N'djamena."

The Children have been in the orphanage since the French aid workers were arrested while trying to put them on a plane to France on October 25 for possible adoption.

Rehrl said interpreters working for Zoe's Ark appear to have been able to take the children from their parents' care under the pretense of taking them to a school in Abéché.

"So given that the education system in eastern Chad is nearly nonexistent and that it is very difficult to find schools in the villages whenever a family gets such an offer it is more like winning in the lottery and of course the parents are eager to let their child go to school," she said.

Whether that idea came directly from Zoe's Ark aid workers or from the interpreters is still being disputed in court.

Zoe's Ark president Eric Breteau, who has already taken the stand at the trial, continues to blame to the group's interpreters.

Rehrl says the children are have been visited daily by members of the U.N children's fund and the International Red Cross, as well as the UNHCR, to make sure they are doing well.

"They have teachers, they are going to school now within the orphanage. We created also an education space for the smaller ones so they are occupied, so at least they are using their time," she added. "But still we are advocating for them to be reunited as soon as possible with their families because the most important thing for them is to be with their mommies and daddies."

The Chadian children from the group are expected to be reunited as soon as the court allows. The release of the few children that are actually from the Darfur region is expected to be more complicated.

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