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Convicted charity workers are returned to France

December 29, 2007|From Times Wire Services

LE BOURGET, FRANCE — Six French charity workers sentenced to eight years' forced labor in Chad for trying to kidnap 103 children were transferred to France on Friday and jailed shortly after arriving, judicial officials said.

The six from Zoe's Ark, sentenced Wednesday, were sent home under a 1976 judicial accord between the two countries that allows for the repatriation of convicts.

Because France does not have forced labor, the French justice system is likely to commute or reduce their sentences. But under the 1976 accord, Chadian officials must agree to the terms of any sentencing changes, judicial officials have said.

Chadian authorities stopped the aid group's convoy with the children, ages 1 to 10, in October. The charity had planned to fly the children to France, saying it was driven by compassion to help orphans in Darfur, the conflict-torn western Sudanese region that borders Chad. They were to be placed with foster families in Europe.

But most of the 103 children were found to have come from families in Chadian border villages who were persuaded to give them up in return for promises of education.

The case sparked anti-French protests in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, and in Abeche in the east.

The six arrived Friday evening at Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, and were taken to a nearby jail, said Francois Molins, the state prosecutor for the Paris suburb of Bobigny. A decision on their sentences is expected by mid-January, he said.

A group of supporters was waiting at the airport but did not see any of the six.

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