Dec 28 (Reuters) - Six French aid workers were flown to France on Friday just days after being sentenced to eight years of forced labour by a Chadian court which found them guilty of trying to kidnap 103 children.
The six are members of humanitarian group Zoe’s Ark who were stopped in October from flying the children, aged between one and 10, out of Chad to Europe. Chad said they had no authorisation to take the infants out of the country.
The six denied the charges, saying they were on a humanitarian mission to fly sick and destitute orphans from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region for fostering with European families.
Here are some details about Zoe’s Ark:
* The organisation was created by a group of French volunteer firefighters and motoring enthusiasts in the wake of the tsunami that devastated parts of Asia on Dec. 26, 2004. They set up four temporary camps in Banda Aceh in Indonesia.
* The organisation has around 50 active volunteers.
* In April, Zoe’s Ark announced a campaign to evacuate 10,000 orphans from Darfur alongside other French charities including Sauver le Darfour (Save Darfur).
* It said it wanted to place orphaned Darfuri children under the age of five in foster care with French families, arguing it had a right to do so under international law.
* The group’s general secretary, Stephanie Lefebvre, told Le Parisien daily the group never aimed to have the children in its care adopted, and simply wanted to save them from starvation.
* A seven-member team, which included a doctor, a nurse and firefighters, was sent to Sudan’s neighbour Chad. Lefebvre said the group sought authorisation from French authorities to grant safe passage for the children it intended to bring back to France, so Zoe’s Ark could seek asylum for them.
* France’s Foreign Ministry issued a warning about Zoe’s Ark in August, saying there was no guarantee the children were helpless orphans and casting doubt on the project’s legality.
* A French journalist arrested with the group said after being freed that Zoe’s Ark had displayed "dramatic amateurishness" and lied about their plans to send the children to France. Sources: Reuters/www.archedezoe.fr (Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)