April 25, 2009 / 11:53 AM / 8 years ago

Kidnappers of aid workers say Chad talks stalled

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Kidnappers holding two foreign aid workers in western Sudan's volatile Darfur region said on Saturday talks with the government of neighboring Chad had stalled.

Canadian Stephanie Joidon and Frenchwoman Claire Dubois were seized at gunpoint from their compound in the south Darfur settlement of Ed el Fursan on April 4. Their kidnappers want Paris to retry members of Zoe's Ark, a French humanitarian group, convicted but later pardoned over the abduction of children from Chad.

The exact nature of the Chad talks have not been revealed but the kidnappers had been hoping Chad would pressure France into reopening the case.

"The negotiations were not successful. Tension will rise in this situation," an unidentified kidnapper told Reuters via satellite phone near the Chad border. "The delegation returned yesterday because we wanted to guarantee its safety."

Earlier this week, the group calling itself the Freedom Eagles of Africa said a team would meet a senior Chad official for talks.

The kidnapper said Dubois was ill and her health was deteriorating.

"We've moved them to another place. The French hostage isn't in good condition and still has diarrhea. The hostages are eating one meal a day and we are drinking out of unhealthy wells," the kidnapper said. "The French woman may become a victim."

Six members of Zoe's Ark were jailed in 2007 for trying to fly children aged between one and 10 out of Chad to Europe. Chad said they had no authorization to take the children out of the country.

The six, who denied the charges, were sentenced to eight years' hard labor by a Chadian court, but were pardoned in March 2008 by Chadian President Idriss Deby.

The kidnappers want the leader of Zoe's Ark, Eric Breteau, who lives in France, to hand himself over to French authorities. "After that we will begin negotiations with any mediator," the man said.

Breteau has told Reuters he was ready to return to court if that would help.

"France is not serious about solving this matter. France wants a solution through Sudan. We have not received any contact from the French or Sudanese authorities," the kidnapper said.

Sudan says it has been excluded from negotiations between the kidnappers and the women's aid group, Aid Medicale International (AMI).

The French foreign ministry has a policy of not commenting on kidnapping cases.

The kidnapper repeated a threat to target French interests in Chad and the Central African Republic if Paris does not negotiate with the group over the Zoe's Ark case.

Editing by Matthew Jones

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