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French Aid Workers Sentenced to 8 Years Hard Labor in Chad Zoe's Ark Case


A court in Chad Wednesday convicted six French aid workers belonging to the Zoe's Ark group of trying to kidnap African children, and sentenced them to eight years of hard labor. A Chadian and Sudanese were sentenced to four years of hard labor, while two Chadians were acquitted. Jade Heilmann reports for VOA from Dakar.

The six French aid workers have been found guilty of the attempted kidnapping of 103 children. They had been arrested in late October for trying to illegally fly the children to Europe for adoption.

Under a judicial agreement signed by France and Chad in 1976, the group could be repatriated to France.

Abdou Lamian, one of the defense lawyers, says he is disappointed.

He says the defendants had denied the charges against them throughout the trial, saying the children had been presented to them as orphans from the Darfur region.

But on the fourth and final day of trial, the group's leader, Eric Breteau, said he was sorry for having separated the Chadian children from their families.

Lawyer Lamian says he feels the defense team might as well not have come at all. He says he felt the defendants had not been listened to and adds the sentence the court imposed is too harsh.

The prosecution argued Zoe's Ark did not have permission to take the children out of the country and tricked the families into believing the children were being sent to school.

Sudanese refugee Souleïmane Ibrahim Adam, who served as an intermediary for Zoe's Ark, was found guilty of complicity and sentenced to four years of hard labor.
Mahamat Dagot, mayor of the Chadian town of Tiné where a majority of the children are from received the same sentence.

Two other Chadian officials also charged with complicity were acquitted.

The court's sentence also awarded about $88,000 in damages to each of the 103 children.

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