Chad pardons French aid workers in kidnap case - Emirates24|7

Chad pardons French aid workers in kidnap case


President Idriss Deby on Monday pardoned six French aid workers convicted in a kidnapping case, Chadian state-owned radio said.

The six workers from a charity called Zoe's Ark had tried to take the 103 children to France in October, claiming they were acting out of humanitarian concern for orphans from Sudan's Darfur region. But investigations showed the children were Chadian, and that most had at least one parent or close adult relative.

After convictions in Chad, the six were transferred to France to serve their sentences under a judicial agreement.

The case had inflamed anti-French sentiment in Chad, but Deby raised the possibility of a pardon after French support helped him ward off a rebel attack on his capital in February.

The children involved, meanwhile, spent months in an orphanage after their flight to France was stopped, and some have yet to be reunited with their families. Delays were linked to bureaucratic difficulties, Chadian government officials' determination to ensure the children were returned to the correct guardians and insecurity in eastern Chad. Part of the problem was that Zoe's Ark had left little paperwork identifying the children, UN officials involved in caring for the children had said.

In Paris Monday, the lawyer for nurse among those convicted, Nadia Merini, hailed the pardon.

"I just learned this news with pleasure and relief," Mario Stasi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Wisdom has prevailed."

He said Merini would try to restart her career following her release.

Celine Lorenzon, a lawyer for Zoe's Ark head Eric Breteau said the six had been in prison too long and added Breteau "can't take it anymore."

Four of the six members of the aid group face preliminary fraud and irregular adoption charges in France and could be tried there.

Chad's president had said that he wanted the children's families to receive a total of around $12 million in compensation, though his pardon would not be conditional on receiving money. He also said that if France would not pay the compensation, then his government would.  (AP)