'Reason to hope'
 
Padacke said the aid workers' fate would be decided by Chad and not through external pressure.

"What is clear is that any commutation of the sentence in this domain cannot be done without the accord of the Chadian authorities," he told French radio.

A lawyer for one of the convicted workers, said he had "reason to hope" that the transfer would happen in the next few days and that all six would be returned to France.

If Chad returns the convicted workers, the French justice system could commute or reduce the workers' sentences, as France does not have forced labour for prisoners.

Protests

The aid workers had said the children were war orphans from the Sudanese region of Darfur that borders eastern Chad.

"What is clear is that any commutation of the sentence in this domain cannot be done without the accord of the Chadian authorities"

Albert Pahimi Padacke, Chad's Justice Minister

However, most were found to have come from families in Chadian border villages who had been reportedly told their children would be educated at local centres.

Lawyers for the aid workers later said intermediaries had tricked the charity into taking the children when they had genuinely believed they were rescuing Darfur orphans.

After weeks in an orphanage in the eastern Chadian town of Abeche, a court order has reportedly permitted that the children can return to their families.

A Chadian and a Sudanese accused of acting as accomplices to the Zoe's Ark group were sentenced by the court to four years in jail, while two other Chadians were acquitted.

The eight convicted were also ordered to pay 6.3 million euros to the families of the 103 children.