Eight years in jail for French aid workers convicted in Chad

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French court sentenced six charity workers to eight years in prison, after they were convicted in Chad of trying to abduct more than 100 children

   CRETEIL, France, January 28, 2008  - 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.

AFP 

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