Home | News    Tuesday 25 December 2007

French nurse falls ill during trial in Chad

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December 24, 2007 (N’DJAMENA, Chad) — A French nurse fell ill Monday and was carried out of a Chadian courtroom where she was being tried with five other charity workers for allegedly trying to kidnap more than 100 African children.

Nadia Merimi, who is on a hunger strike along with her co-defendants, was taken out of the court while relatives of the children testified in the third day of the trial. Her condition was not immediately known.

The aid workers began a hunger strike earlier this month to draw attention to the case, saying they feel abandoned by the French government.

The defendants, who work for an aid group called Zoe’s Ark, were charged with fraud and kidnapping after authorities stopped a convoy with 103 children that the charity was planning to fly to France in October. They face 20 years in prison with hard labor if convicted.

Zoe’s Ark officials maintain they were driven by compassion to help orphans in Darfur, which borders Chad. An uprising that flared in Darfur in 2003 has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million to flee their homes.

But subsequent investigations revealed most of the 103 children Zoe’s Ark was planning to fly out were Chadians who had at least one parent or close adult relative with whom they lived.

Nassour Gardia, a relative who testified Monday, said he believed the children were going to be educated in Chad.

"They tricked us by telling us our children would be taught here," Gardia said. "And then they herded them like cattle to sell in France."

A group of relatives is a civil party in the case and is demanding the equivalent of about $430,000 in damages for each child involved.

Celine Lorenzon, one of the defense lawyers, told the French radio station France-Info she expected to sum up her case Wednesday, and that the verdict was likely that same day.

The case has embarrassed France and sparked protests in the central African country, a former French colony.

France’s role in the region has already come under scrutiny in recent months as the European Union plans to send a military mission composed mostly of French troops to Chad to protect refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Sudan.

(AP)

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