Six French charity workers serving prison sentences for allegedly trying to kidnap some 100 children - most from Chad - may soon receive a pardon from Chad's President Idriss Deby. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports that Mr. Deby has also appealed for a delayed European Union peacekeeping force to be deployed as soon as possible to Chad.
In an interview on France's Europe 1 radio station Thursday, President Deby said the six charity workers could be pardoned if the French government sends him a request.
Mr. Deby said the workers did what they did, but at the end the children never left Chadian soil. The worst was avoided, he said, so there is no reason not to request their release.
Initially detained in Chad, the aid workers were ultimately transferred to France where a French court commuted their hard labor sentences into prison terms.
A French presidential spokesman said Paris will relay a pardon request to Chad if it is made by the lawyers for the six French charity workers. Lawyers for some of the workers say they have already filed the requests.
The six were members of the French Zoe's Ark charity. They were initially sentenced in Chad on charges of trying to kidnap the children. The aid workers claim they were duped into believing the children were orphans from the war-torn Darfur region of neighboring Sudan.
In the Europe 1 interview, Mr. Deby also appealed for a 3,000-man European Union peacekeeping force to be sent to Chad. The deployment was delayed due to heavy fighting between government and rebel forces.
The Chadian president said it is critical for the EU peacekeepers to come as soon as possible to provide humanitarian assistance to thousands of displaced Chadians and Central Africans, along with Darfur refugees in Chad.
Mr. Deby also denied suggestions that France directly helped Chad's government fight the rebels this past week - as some rebel fighters have claimed.