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Last Updated: Friday, 28 December 2007, 20:11 GMT
French aid workers home from Chad
Jailed Zoe's Ark workers
The French aid workers denied involvement in child-trafficking
Six French aid workers who were jailed in Chad on child trafficking charges have returned to France.

The six were sentenced to eight years' hard labour in Chad on Wednesday for attempting to kidnap 103 children.

The four men and two women from the French charity Zoe's Ark arrived at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, where they were met by French police.

France struck a deal with Chad, requesting that the six serve their sentences in their home country.

The aid workers insisted they were trying to evacuate orphans from Darfur.

However, most of the children were found to be from Chad, which borders the war-torn western Sudanese region, and had parents who were still alive.

Chad map

Chad's Justice Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke told reporters on Friday: "I have responded favourably to the transfer request from France this morning."

The transfer was made possible by a 1976 bilateral co-operation accord.

The aid workers' actions sparked outrage in the former French colony in central Africa.

France has considerable leverage over Chad, BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says, with military support from Paris having saved President Idriss Deby's government from being overthrown by rebels on a number of occasions.

Legal proceedings would be required in France to amend the sentences because the country has no punishment of hard labour.

The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says it is likely that once the six arrive home, the French justice system will commute or reduce their sentences.

But it is unclear whether they will still have to pay a $9m (4.5m) fine imposed by a Chadian judge and whether they will face lawsuits lodged by families who had offered to foster the children in Europe, our correspondent says.

Controversial operation

The six were arrested in October as they tried to fly the children to France.

Zoe's Ark insisted tribal leaders in Sudan had told them all the children were orphans from Darfur. It said it wanted to save the children's lives and was carrying out a medical evacuation - not an adoption operation.

In statements to police, the families said they had not been told their children were about to be taken abroad.

They claimed that the aid workers misled them into believing the youngsters - aged one to 10 - would be offered temporary local school places.

In November seven Europeans arrested with the six Zoe's Ark workers flew home, accompanied by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

French aid workers arrive in Paris

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