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Kidnapped kids going back to families

  • Story Highlights
  • The 103 children taken by French aid workers to be reunited with families soon
  • The 21 girls and 82 boys, aged 1-10, will be handed over to relatives in Chad
  • They have been in orphanage in Chadian town of Abeche since late October
  • Six Zoe's Ark workers were convicted on kidnapping charges in December
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(CNN) -- The 103 Chadian children whom six French charity workers were convicted of attempting to kidnap will soon be reunited with their families, the United Nations' children agency said Friday.

Some of the 103 children who were nearly abducted by a French charity, pictured in Abeche in November 2007.

The children have been living in an orphanage in Abeche, in eastern Chad, since late October. Chadian authorities arrested the Zoe's Ark aid workers as they earlier tried to leave the central African country with the children on a Paris-bound plane, the United Nations Children's Fund said.

The charity had said the children were orphans from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region and were being taken to foster families in France. However, other charities determined that most of the children were from Chad, not Sudan, and had at least one living parent.

Beginning next week, a UNICEF team will travel to Abeche, Adre and Tine to facilitate reuniting the 21 girls and 82 boys, aged 1 to 10, with their families. Chad's government has approved the move, UNICEF said.

Interviews with the children indicated that the majority were from villages near the cities of Adre and Tine along the Chadian-Sudanese border, according to a November statement from the Red Cross, UNICEF, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The kidnapping scandal attracted international attention, with French authorities reacting angrily to the charity's trip, calling the group's actions "illegal and irresponsible."

However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy intervened on the six's behalf after a Chadian court sentenced the six aid workers to eight years of hard labor in Chad, and the central African nation handed them over to France to serve their sentences.

In late January, a French court sentenced Eric Breteau -- the group's leader -- Emilie Lelouch, Alain Peligat, Philippe van Winkelberg, Dominique Aubry and Nadia Merimi to eight years in a French prison. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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