Chad Agrees to Return Imprisoned Aid Workers to France

Lisa Bryant

Six French aid workers convicted of attempted kidnapping in Chad are on their way back to France where they are to serve out their sentences. On Wednesday, the six were sentenced to eight years of hard labor, after being convicted of trying to kidnap 103 children from Chad. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

The return of the six members of the French Zoe's Ark charity follows a request Thursday by the French government for them to be repatriated and to serve out their sentences in France. Since France's justice system does not deliver sentences of forced labor, the six charity workers may have their sentences reduced or commuted.

The six were convicted of trying to kidnap 103 African children and bring them to France. The charity adamantly denies the charges, arguing it had wanted to save Sudanese orphans from war-torn Darfur, just across Chad's border. But an inquiry by international agencies found that most of those children were neither orphans nor Sudanese.

France-Info radio reported Friday that lawyers representing the children's families want the charity to pay nearly $9 million in damages and interests before the six French are allowed to return home.

Josselyne Lamilane, lawyer for the families of the 103 children, said the money was nothing at all for Zoe's Ark. If the charity didn't pay up, she told the radio, its members should stay in Chad.

The six charity workers were arrested in eastern Chad in October, just as they were about to fly the children to France. Eleven other Europeans - the flight crew and reporters who had been with them - were repatriated shortly after.

On Wednesday, a Chadian court sentenced the French workers to eight years of forced labor. A Sudanese and a Chadian, accused of being accomplices, were sentenced to four years in jail. Two other Chadians were acquitted.

The case has sparked protests in Chad and comes at a delicate time. The European Union is to send troops to Chad to protect refugees fleeing from violence in nearby Sudan. French troops are to make up the bulk of that force.

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