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Talk of a deal in Chad as French workers face trial

December 20, 2007|From Reuters

N'DJAMENA, CHAD — Six French humanitarian workers accused of trying to kidnap 103 African children are to go on trial Friday in Chad amid speculation about a diplomatic deal.

Although the accused face forced labor sentences if convicted, Chadian lawyers and many citizens believe they will be able to serve their jail terms in France or be pardoned by Chadian President Idriss Deby.

The three men and three women are members of a humanitarian group called Zoe's Ark who were stopped in late October from flying the children, ages 1 through 10, to Europe. Chad said they had no authorization to take the children.

The French workers deny the kidnapping and fraud charges and have been on a hunger strike. They will be tried here with three Chadians and a Sudanese national accused of being accomplices.

Speculation that a diplomatic deal is in the offing increased after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Deby in Lisbon during a summit of European and African leaders 10 days ago. They expressed a "common will to resolve the situation."

The accused say they were on a humanitarian mission to save sick orphans from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region and get them foster care in Europe. But Chadian and U.N. officials say most of the children were not orphans, were generally in good health and came from places straddling the Chadian-Sudanese frontier.

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