Chad president offers pardon for French aid workers

Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno said on Thursday he was willing to pardon six French aid workers convicted of trying to fly more than 100 children out of the country, now serving their jail terms in France.

“I am ready to pardon them,” Déby told French radio Europe 1. “If the French government makes the request, we are able to ask for their release.”

Asked whether a pardon could take place soon, he replied: “Absolutely.”

On Wednesday Déby had said a pardon for the six was “not impossible”,= after talks with French Defence Minister Herve Morin, during which he thanked Paris for supporting his regime in the face of a week-long rebel assault.

France has 1 450 troops plus Mirage jet fighters in Chad, and while France says it provided no direct military back-up, Déby said on Thursday it had provided him with vital intelligence support in repelling rebels from the capital.

The members of French charity Zoe’s Ark were sentenced to eight years hard labour in Chad and now are serving an equivalent jail sentence in France for trying to evacuate 103 children from the Darfur border in October.

International aid staff later found almost all the children on board to be Chadian, not war refugees from the Sudanese region across the border, and to have at least one living parent.

“The Chadian children did not leave. They are here now, with their parents.
We managed to avoid the worst. What good does it do me to have six French nationals in prison?” Déby told Europe 1.

Lawyers for the French charity workers had already filed formal requests for pardons.

Olivier Desandre-Navarre, lawyer for one of the workers, Dominique Aubry, had on Wednesday described Déby’s comments as “a very encouraging sign”.

“I hope he does it as soon as possible,” said Mario Stasi, who represents the team nurse, Nadia Merimi.

During their trial in Ndjamena, the Zoe’s Ark members had protested their innocence, saying they were misled by middlemen into believing the children were orphans from Darfur.—AFP

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