Two new suspects arrested in Zoe's Ark Chad case
Accused of complicity in the case of an attempted airlift to France of 103 children by a French charity3 December 2007
A fifth Chadian and a Sudanese refugee have been accused of complicity in the case of an attempted airlift to France of 103 children by a French charity, judicial officials in N'Djamena said Monday.
Souleimane Ibrahim Adam is suspected of having served as intermediary between the charity Zoe's Ark and the families of the children. Authorities have leveled the same accusation against an unnamed Sudanese refugee who has been living in Chad for six years, officials said.
Both the Sudanese and Adam, the head of a Koranic school in Adre near the Sudanese border, allowed Zoe's Ark to pick up more than 80 children in the border area, according to one official.
After being arrested in Adre, then charged in the main eastern Chadian city of Abeche, the two were transferred over the weekend to the capital, where they were jailed.
They join six French members of Zoe's Ark still incarcerated in N'Djamena on charges of kidnapping and fraud. Four other Chadian officials are also detained for complicity.
During a court hearing Monday, Zoe's Ark head Eric Breteau reaffirmed that the children were presented "as Sudanese," while the two new suspects said at least 60 were Chadian, a court official said.
The controversial operation was halted October 25 by Chadian authorities in Abeche as charity members tried to board a France-bound plane with the children.
Zoe's Ark has argued the children were orphans from Darfur, the bordering Sudanese region currently in the throes of a civil war. But international humanitarian organisations claim almost all the children are from Chadian villages in the border area, and have at least one parent or adult guardian.
The lawyers for the French suspects have asked the Chadian courts to downgrade the charges from crimes to misdemeanours.
The judicial investigation into the case will likely end this week, with the court then moving swiftly to consider the lawyers' demands to requalify the charges and to fix a date for a possible trial, the court official said.
Also charged initially were three French journalists, seven Spanish air crew members chartered by Zoe's Ark to take the children to France and a Belgian pilot who transported some of the children from Adre to Abeche. They have since been released and repatriated, although the charges still hold in
Those charged could incur sentences of between five and 20 years of forced labour in Chad -- but only two to five years if the charges are requalified.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy angered Chadian authorities last month when he vowed to personally bring back the French suspects regardless of their
Sarkozy's spokesman later amended the statement to state that any eventual extradition would be dependent on the decision of the Chadian authorities.
Since then, Paris and N'Djamena have reacted more discretely.
(copyright AFP 2007)