Home | News    Sunday 23 December 2007

Sudanese acknowledges he misled French charity

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December 22, 2007 (NDJAMENA) — A Sudanese man on Saturday told the trial in Chad of six French charity workers accused of trying to kidnap 103 children that he had misled them into believing some of the children were Darfur war orphans.

The head of French charity Zoe’s Ark Eric Breteau(C) is escorted by plaincloth policemen as he leaves the N’Djamena courthouse after the second day of the trial. Dec 22, 2007 (AFP)

The nationality and status of the children dominated the second day of the trial in which the six members of the Arche de Zoe (Zoe’s Ark) charity could be given 20 years hard labour if found guilty.

Souleimane Ibrahim Adam said he signed certificates that 63 children that were to be flown to France were Sudanese orphans. He said he knew they had Chadian parents who were still alive.

Adam, who is also on trial for complicity in the case, said he signed the certificates after learning the charity planned to build a school in the Chadian border town of Adre, in the region many were from.

He said four of his family members — three nephews and a grandson — were among the group handed over to the charity.

"The whites said they had come to ’help poor children’" he said, adding the charity had not paid him for his efforts.

The six charity workers were arrested on October 25 as they were poised to fly the 103 children to France from the eastern Chadian town of Abeche.

The Zoe’s Ark members say that they were only trying to save orphans from conflict in Darfur, across Chad’s border with Sudan. International relief workers have found that almost all of the children are Chadian with at least one living parent.

Three Chadians are also on trial, accused of complicity alongside Adam.

But one of the charity workers Emilie Lelouch, 31, told how she found out that some children of the children were not orphans.

Lelouch, who previously said she had no doubt the children were Sudanese, told the court that several mothers turned up at the charity’s base in eastern Chad to claim back their children. In each case Zoe’s Ark handed the infant back, she said.

Defence lawyers say the six, who began a hunger strike two weeks ago, were duped by local intermediaries — a claim reaffirmed by Zoe’s Ark head Eric Breteau on the first day of the trial.

Breteau also said some of the children needed medical care in France and that all were "malnourished or undernourished" — claims that appeared to contradict those of Adam, the Sudanese, who said the 63 children he certified were "in good health."

The tangled story took another twist Saturday, when a driver for the charity, also a witness at the trial, was detained for questioning over his role in the case.

Breteau described the man, Mahamat Eritero, as "the main intermediary" in finding children from one of the villages, Tine. He said he was told 15 of the children were Darfur orphans — accusations Eritero denied.

The case has prompted concerns about adoptions by Western couples of children from developing countries.

The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, said last month it was working with the Chadian government to ensure stricter controls on charities after the Zoe’s Ark affair in order to restore trust in international aid workers.

Sources close to the case suggest Paris and Ndjamena may have already agreed for the charity workers to be transferred back home to serve out their sentence in the event of a conviction.

The trial is to continue on Monday.

(AFP)

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