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Zoe's Ark volunteers get eight years

©

Latest update : 2008-01-28

A French court on Monday sentenced six members of the French charity to eight years in jail after they were convicted of child abduction in Chad. The sentence replaces the eight-year forced labour term handed down by a Chadian court.

A French court on Monday sentenced six charity workers to eight years in prison, after they were convicted in Chad of trying to abduct more than 100 children from the border with war-torn Darfur.

The founder and five members of French charity Zoe's Ark were sentenced to eight years hard labour in Chad last month on charges of attempted kidnapping, but were later repatriated to France where no such penalty exists.

The court in the Paris suburb of Creteil was charged with converting their sentence into French law, without reviewing the verdict of the Chadian trial -- denounced by defence lawyers as a "farce".

Charity founder Eric Breteau, his partner Emilie Lelouch, the charity's logistics chief Alain Peligat, volunteer firefighter Dominique Aubry and team doctor Philippe van Winkelberg were present for the hearing.

A sixth aid worker, nurse Nadia Merimi, who was hospitalised suffering from exhaustion earlier this month, was not in court.

Breteau went on hunger strike after he and the five others were repatriated to France late last month, and detained in a prison outside Paris pending a decision on their sentences.

At their four-day trial in Ndjamena, the Zoe's Ark members protested innocence, saying they were misled by middlemen into believing the children were orphans from the Sudanese region of Darfur which borders eastern Chad.

Defence lawyers had denounced the conditions of their Chadian trial and argued that the French court had a duty to repair "a terrible injustice".

The Zoe's Ark members were detained on October 25 as they were about to put the children on a French-bound flight from the eastern Chad town of Abeche.

International aid staff later found almost all the children on board to be Chadian, not war refugees from across the border, and to have at least one living parent.

The case raised tensions between France and Chad, a former French colony, as Paris prepares to spearhead a 3,500-strong EU peacekeeping force in eastern Chad to protect refugee camps in the region bordering Darfur.

Date created : 2008-01-28

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