Home | News    Friday 14 December 2007

French charity workers trial in Chad on Dec 21


December 13, 2007 (NDJAMENA) — The criminal trial of six French charity workers, three Chadians and a Sudanese over a bid to fly out 103 children to France will begin on December 21, a legal source and one of the defendants said Thursday.

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Some of 103 children in Abeche after being seized by Chad as French charity Zoe’s Ark were trying to fly them to France Oct 26, 2007. (Reuters)

Another source said the trial should not last longer than a week — meaning that the six French accused could be starting lengthy prison sentences when their families are celebrating Christmas.

On Wednesday the authority that sends a suspect for trial decided that the case should be heard in a criminal court, rather than a lesser court.

A lawyer for the French accused, Abdou Lamian, said Thursday he would be lodging an appeal with the Supreme Court against the decision to send his clients to the criminal court.

The members of the French Zoe’s Ark charity face charges of attempted kidnapping, fraud and trying to skip the country without clearing their bills.

The other three — the mayor of the town of Tine, on the border between Chad and Sudan, his chief official and a Sudanese refugee — are being tried for complicity.

The defendants, who were taken to court Thursday to be informed of the trial date, risk terms of between five and 20 years of hard labour if found guilty.

The head of Zoe’s Ark, Eric Breteau, said as he emerged from the courthouse, "The farce goes on — apparently it’s the 21st, so we’ll be there."

Lamian has several times alleged that the Chadian authorities were rushing the trial through with unusual speed, infringing on the rights of the defence and legal procedure."

The six French accused began a hunger strike on Saturday to protest their innocence — although they are allowing themselves water and cigarettes.

The French were among a total of 17 Europeans arrested in the eastern Chadian city of Abeche after trying to fly the African children to France in October.

Lawyers for the charity workers previously requested their case be downgraded to misdemeanours, so they could face trial in a court where the charges against them carried lighter sentences.
Zoe’s Ark has argued the children were orphans from Darfur, the Sudanese region bordering Chad that is currently in the throes of a bloody conflict.

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.

Others connected to the affair — including three French journalists and seven Spanish aircrew and a Belgian pilot — were repatriated from Chad without charge at the start of September.


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