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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 08:57 GMT
Chad sets date for kidnap trial
A Chadian soldier guards an orphanage serving as the temporary home for 103 children at the centre of the row. File photo
The children are living temporarily in a Chadian orphanage
A court in Chad has set a date for the trial of six French nationals charged with trying to kidnap 103 children.

The six workers from the charity Zoe's Ark will be tried in the capital, N'Djamena, on 21 December.

Zoe's Ark says the children were orphans from Darfur whom they were taking to be fostered in France.

The court will try to establish whether the children were the beneficiaries of a humanitarian project that went wrong, or the victims of child trafficking.

They said they were a humanitarian organisation building schools here to educate our children
Ibrahim Obali Mohamed
Eric Breteau, a volunteer fire-fighter who founded Zoe's Ark in response to the Asian Tsunami, insists his mission in Chad was humanitarian.

In a written statement handed to the BBC from his prison cell, Mr Breteau says that if the children are not orphans from Darfur it is the fault of Chadian intermediaries who delivered the children to him.

He says he and his team had no direct contact with their carers.

Three Chadians and one Sudanese refugee are also on trial for conspiracy.

Fake blood

But Ibrahim Obali Mohamed, one of the parents who entrusted his three children to Zoe's Ark, says he did indeed meet the French members of the charity.

"The white people spoke to us and the Chadians interpreted. I spoke to one French woman called Emilie," he told the BBC's Pascale Harter.

Eric Breteau (r) president of Zoe's Ark and another of the 16 Europeans charged
Eric Breteau (r) blames Chadian intermediaries
He confirmed this woman was Emilie Lelouch, Mr Breteau's girlfriend.

"They said they were a humanitarian organisation building schools here to educate our children," Mr Mohamed said.

"That's why we handed over our children to their care. For us, education is very important."

Most of the children have been found to have at least one living parent or guardian.

The judge will want to know why none of them appear to have known that they were handing over their children to be taken to France.

He will also want to know why, when none of them was injured, the children were bandaged and caked in fake blood ahead of their flight.

A lawyer for Mr Breteau told the BBC her client did it to amuse them as they were scared of the journey.

Pascale Harter's report on the Zoe's Ark story will be broadcast this weekend on the BBC World Service Assignment programme.

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