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Lawyer: Zoe's Ark Members to Be Tried in Chadian Criminal Court

A lawyer involved in the case of the six French charity workers detained in Chad on suspicion of trying to illegally fly 103 children to Europe, has said they will be tried in a criminal court in Chad. Several Chadians are also facing attempted kidnapping charges. Jade Heilmann has more from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

The six members of the French aid group Zoe's Ark face charges including attempted kidnapping, fraud, and the forgery of documents. They were part of the group of 17 Europeans arrested in the northern city of Abeche for allegedly trying to smuggle 103 children to France.

They have been detained in Chad since their arrest in late October.

The remaining 11 suspects, including Spanish crew members of the chartered plane, were previously released.

Their lawyer, Jean Bernard Padare, says their charges with the Chadian courts were dropped.

If found guilty, the six detainees face hard labor sentences. Frustrated with both the French and Chadian governments, the group started a hunger strike Friday.

As Padare explains, the aid workers say the Chadian judge is not taking their arguments into consideration. Padare also says they feel they have been neglected by the French government.

Officials from Zoe's Ark argue the aid workers wanted to fly orphans from the war-torn Darfur, the Sudanese region bordering Chad, for adoption by French families. But humanitarian organizations say most children had at least one parental guardian, and that many of them were Chadian and not from Darfur.

A French activist on Franco-African issues, Sharon Courtoux, does not think there is anything left for the French government to do.

She says, at this point, it is difficult for the French government to intervene in Chadian justice, and the group will have to wait for a decision from the court.

Four Chadians involved in the apparent adoption scheme also face criminal charges. A court date for the trial of the accused French and Chadian has not yet been set.