[JURIST] A judge in Chad has approved kidnapping charges against six French nationals after French charity Zoe's Arc [advocacy website, in French] tried to fly 103 children believed to be orphans [ZA backgrounder, in French] from the embattled Darfur region of Sudan [JURIST news archives] to France, Chadean officials said Tuesday. If found guilty the six accused could face up to 20 years in prison. Three French journalists and a seven-person Barcelona-based flight crew will also be charged with complicity in the alleged kidnapping. Zoe's Arc said it had arranged for French host families to care for the children. French authorities searched the headquarters of Zoe's Arc to see if the charity broke any French adoption laws because the charity had allegedly told some of the host families they would eventually be able to adopt the orphans.
UN children's agency UNICEF [advocacy website] is investigating whether the children, who were living as refugees in Chad [JURIST news archive], were actually orphans. Initial evidence indicates that many of the children were actually citizens of Chad, not refugees from Sudan. Chad President Idriss Deby Itno [AE profile, in French] promised to punish the suspects, calling the alleged attempted kidnapping "child trafficking" and suggesting that Zoe's Arc planned to sell the children to pedophiles or kill the children. The botched flyout occurred just before the European Union planned to deploy a 4,000 man peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to aid in the refugee crisis created by the Darfur conflict. While Deby has assured French President Nicolas Sarkozy that the scandal will not impact the incoming peacekeeping force, lawyers for Zoe's Arc have already accused Deby of making outrageous public comments about the alleged kidnapping to use as a "bargaining chip" with France in talks over the peacekeeping force. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage.