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French Zoe's Ark NGO leaders appeal against prison terms

Arche de Zoé members Eric Breteau (C) and Emilie Lelouch (L) at their trial in N'djamena in 2007
Arche de Zoé members Eric Breteau (C) and Emilie Lelouch (L) at their trial in N'djamena in 2007 AFP

The founders of the controversial French NGO Arche de Zoé (Zoe's Ark) were to appear before an appeals court in Paris on Wednesday for attempting to smuggle Chadian children to France in 2007.

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The scandal broke six years ago when French aid workers were caught trying to fly more than 100 children out of Chad illegally.

Zoe's Ark claimed to be aiding orphans in Darfur by evacuating and placing them with French families.

But many of the alleged orphans turned out to have at least one living parent and many were not from Sudan but from Chad.

Although the Chadian government sentenced the founders Eric Breteau and Emilie Lelouch to eight years of forced labour, they were pardoned by Chad's President Idriss Déby and subsequently sent to France.

Last February a Paris court found Breteau and Lelouch guilty of fraud and abduction and sentenced them to three years in jail and a 50,000-euro fine.

They failed to attend the hearings earlier this year but said they would be present to appeal against the charges on Wednesday.

They say they are determined to prove their innocence.

"Emilie Lelouch and Eric Breteau never wanted to do any harm," their lawyer Céline Lorenzon told RFI. "My clients have plenty of fight in them in the sense that the want to tell the court what their real intentions on this mission. So we're waiting for this trial to be heard."

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