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Chad Trial of French Charity Workers Set for December 21


A court in Chad has set December 21 as the starting date for the trial of six French nationals accused of trying to smuggle 103 African children out of the country.

Lawyers in Chad confirmed the starting date Thursday, three days after Chadian authorities decided the case would be held in a criminal court instead of a civil court.

The defendants, from the French charity Zoe's Ark, face charges of attempted kidnapping, fraud and forgery of documents. Three Chadians also are being tried as accomplices.

The six French aid workers were among 17 Europeans arrested in October in the eastern city of Abeche as they attempted to put the African children on a plane bound for France. Eleven crew members and journalists on the flight were later released.

Zoe's Ark says the children were orphans and that the charity was trying to save them from possible death in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

But U.N. and French officials say most of the children appear to be from Chad and have at least one parent or guardian.

Last Friday, the detained French nationals began a hunger strike. A lawyer for the defendants say the Chadian judge is not taking their arguments into consideration, and that they feel abandoned by the French government.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.