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This was published 11 years ago
Ten US Christian missionaries have been charged with child abduction and conspiracy, almost a week after they were caught allegedly trying to smuggle 33 children out of quake-hit Haiti.
The Americans from an Idaho-based charity were formally charged with "kidnapping minors and criminal association", said their lawyer Edwin Coq, after his hopes were dashed that all of the group except its leader Laura Silsby would be freed.
Accused … Laura Silsby.Credit:AFP
The group of five men and five women, who have been held since late on Friday, should now be tried in Haiti, Justice Minister Paul Denis said, adding he saw "no reason" why they would be sent to the United States for trial.
One of the missionaries said as she arrived at court on Thursday that she and her co-defendants "are just trusting God for a positive outcome".
They have denied any ill-intent, saying they only wanted to help those children left orphaned or abandoned by the January 12 quake that ravaged the Caribbean nation, leaving one million people homeless.
Despite a huge aid effort, many survivors remain desperate for food, water and medicine. Among the destitute are thousands of children who, having lost their parents and homes, are seen as particularly vulnerable to traffickers and child predators.
The missionaries from the Baptist charity New Life Children's Refuge were detained late on Friday as they attempted to cross into the Dominican Republic with a busload of children aged from two months to 12 years.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was "unfortunate" that "this group of Americans took matters into their own hands".
And it has emerged many of the children still had parents or relatives, some of whom may have personally handed them over to the Americans. Their lawyer Coq said a Haitian pastor had authorised the Baptists to take the children out.
"They were missionaries who came to help," he said.
Justice Minister Denis said: "It is Haitian law that has been violated. It is up to the Haitian authorities to hear and judge the case. I don’t see any reason why they should be tried in the United States."
But government prosecutor Mazan Fortil said it was not yet clear if the 10 would be tried in the Haiti.
"We cannot say right now. We have to apply Haitian law. The case will be sent before a judicial panel, to open the investigation.
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has charged that the case is becoming "a distraction" for Haitians with people "talking more now about 10 people than about one million people suffering on the streets".
He said the 7.0-magnitude quake had killed more than 200,000 people and was "a disaster on a planetary scale".
Another 300,000 injured people had been treated, while 250,000 homes had been destroyed and 30,000 businesses lost, he said.
With tensions running high in the ruined capital Port-au-Prince over the slow aid effort, angry Haitians have staged protests in the streets demanding food, water and jobs.
The United States, which is spearheading the relief efforts, has deployed 20,000 troops, helicopters and transport planes, but coordination problems and the sheer scale of the disaster has hampered aid distribution.
Aid agencies say donations for Haiti have been much lower than for the 2004 Asian tsunami, where the death toll was about 220,000.
The international Red Cross raised $US3 billion ($3.4 billion) after the tsunami but the figure for the Haiti quake – the worst natural disaster on record in the Americas – stands at just $US555 million.
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