Home | News    Friday 28 December 2007

Chad willing to send back Zoe’s Ark member to France - minister


December 27, 2007 (NDJAMENA) — Chad’s justice minister said Thursday he was looking favourably on a request from France to have six members of French charity Zoe’s Ark, jailed for attempted child abduction, transferred home.

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The head of French charity Zoe’s Ark, Eric Breteau, and his girlfriend, charity worker Emilie Lelouch, arrive at the Ndjamena courthouse (AFP)

"We received this evening the transfer demand," said Justice Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke. "We are going to answer favourably by tomorrow morning, since it is covered in the 1976 accord."

France and Chad signed a judicial cooperation agreement in 1976 providing for the repatriation of their country’s citizens convicted in the other country, if the person concerned agrees and their country makes the request.

Lawyers for the six French members of L’Arche de Zoe said their clients could be home within days, which diplomatic sources in the Chadian capital confirmed.

All six were convicted on Wednesday of attempted child abduction for having tried to fly 103 children out of Chad to France, claiming they were war orphans from the Sudanese region of Darfur that borders eastern Chad.

Each one of them was convicted to eight years’ hard labour.

France’s justice ministry announced earlier Thursday that Justice Minister Rachida Daha had lodged the request for its citizens to serve their time in France.

The six charity workers lodged transfer demands after their conviction.

In France, there is no forced labour and further legal proceedings there would be needed to adjust the sentences accordingly.

Padacke said the prisoners would have to be escorted by French and Chadian police accompanied by lawyers for the families of the children who were at the centre of the row.

Representatives of the families might also travel with the group "to check that the convicted have actually been locked up once they arrive in France," he added.

Families of the six charity workers were received at the presidential palace in Paris Thursday to hear the news of the transfer request.

At the end of a fast-moving judicial process that lasted six weeks and four days — the trial itself took only five days — the sentences were handed down Wednesday.

The six French citizens were found guilty of "attempted kidnap of children, breaching their civil rights" and "absconding without payment" of bills in their attempt to fly the children to France from eastern Chad on October 25.

The court also sentenced a Chadian and a Sudanese who had worked with the charity as intermediaries to four years in prison.

All of the eight convicted were also ordered to pay 4.12 billion CFA francs (6.3 million euros) to the families of the 103 children caught up in the affair.

All the defendants had protested their innocence.

Just before the end of the trial Breteau apologised to any Chadian parents who had been separated from their children.

But he again insisted that he and his colleagues had acted in good faith when they tried to fly the children from eastern Chad, near the border with Sudan’s conflict-ridden Darfur region, to France.

Lawyers for the French workers had blamed intermediaries for having tricked the charity into taking Chadian children when their mission was to save Sudanese orphans from the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.

International relief workers had already determined that almost all the children were Chadian and not war refugees from Darfur — and all had at least one living parent.

Having been in the custody of an orphanage in the eastern Chadian town of Abeche, a court order will finally allow them to return to their families.

But the case has prompted concerns about adoptions by Western couples of children from the developing world.

It has also increased strains between France and Chad as Paris prepares to spearhead a 3,500-strong EU peacekeeping force in eastern Chad to protect refugee camps in the region bordering Darfur, in western Sudan.

After the affair broke in late October there were a number of anti-French protest in the streets of NDjamena.


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