( AP ) - President Idriss Deby on Monday pardoned six French aid workers convicted of trying to smuggle 103 children out of Chad, state-owned radio said.
The six workers from the Zoe's Ark charity were convicted on kidnapping charges for attempting to fly the children to France in October, claiming they were acting out of humanitarian concern for war orphans from neighboring Sudan's Darfur region. But investigations showed the children were Chadian, and that most had at least one parent or close adult relative.
After their convictions in Chad, the six aid workers were transferred to France to serve their sentences under a judicial agreement.
The case had inflamed anti-French sentiment in Chad, but Deby raised the possibility of a pardon after French support helped him ward off a rebel attack on his capital in February.
Deby said at the time that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had pledged to help resolve the issue during a visit to Chad in February.
The children spent months in an orphanage after their flight to France was stopped, and some have yet to be reunited with their families.
Delays were linked to bureaucratic difficulties, Chadian government officials' determination to ensure the children were returned to the correct guardians and insecurity in eastern Chad. Part of the problem was that Zoe's Ark left little paperwork identifying the children, U.N. officials involved in caring for the children said.
In Paris, the lawyer for one of the convicted aid workers, Nadia Merini, hailed the pardon.
"I just learned this news with pleasure and relief," Mario Stasi told The Associated Press. "Wisdom has prevailed."
He said Merini, who is a nurse, would try to restart her career after she is released.
Celine Lorenzon, a lawyer for Zoe's Ark head Eric Breteau said the six had been in prison too long, adding Breteau "can't take it anymore."
Four of the six face preliminary fraud and irregular adoption charges in France and could be tried there.
Chad's president had said he wanted the children's families to receive a total of $12 million in compensation, though his pardon would not be conditional on receiving money. He also said that if France would not pay compensation, then his government would.