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Zoe's Ark workers get hard labor

  • Story Highlights
  • Chad court sentences six French aid workers to eight years of forced labor
  • Group found guilty of trying to kidnap 103 African children to Europe
  • NEW: Wife of convicted aid worker blasts Chadian justice
  • Defendants worked for French group Zoe's Ark, which say it may have been lied to
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(CNN) -- A judge sentenced six French aid workers to eight years hard labor Wednesday after convicting them of trying to kidnap 103 children in the central African country of Chad.

Emilie Lelouch of Zoe's Ark leaves the court house in a police vehicle.

The judge also fined each of the six defendants to pay €60,000 ($87,000) to each of the 103 children, according the CNN Paris-based affiliate, BFM-TV.

That order would require each defendant to pay a total of €6,180,000 ($8.9 million.)

Authorities detained members of the French charity, Zoe's Ark, in October as they tried to fly 103 children from Chad to France.

The charity said the children were orphans who had fled the nearby war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, but aid agencies later said the children were from Chad, not Sudan, and that they were not orphans.

The head of Zoe's Ark, Eric Breteau, said after the verdict that he and his colleagues may "have been lied to" about whether the children were from Sudan or Chad and whether they were orphans.

"We are really sorry because our intention was never to separate families," he told France 2 in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad.

Antonia Van Winkelverg, the wife of convicted aid worker Philippe Van Winkelverg, blasted the sentence in an interview with France 2.

"Eight years because he was treating children," she said. "You who are doctors, nurses, you go do humanitarian work and at any moment you could be in Philippe's shoes. That's Chadian justice for you."

But Chadian prosecutor Alain Kagonbe tld BFM-TV: "It was a very merciful ruling, and if that ruling had been rendered by the French justice system it would have been the same."

The court in Chad also sentenced two people from Chad and Sudan to four years in prison. It also acquitted two citizens of Chad.Video Watch a report on how the events unfolded »


The French Foreign Ministry has asked authorities in Chad to let the six aid workers serve their sentences in France.

The French penal code does not include provisions for hard labor, so the six would spend time behind bars in France. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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