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By Joseph Guyler Delva
4 Min Read
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – A Haitian judge made no decision at a hearing on Monday whether to free or prosecute 10 U.S. missionaries accused of kidnapping children, and their leader said she trusted in God they would be cleared and released.
The missionaries, most of whom belong to an Idaho-based Baptist church, were arrested last month trying to take 33 Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic 17 days after a magnitude 7 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
They were charged last week with child abduction and criminal association. Hearings that could lead either to their release or a decision to move ahead with prosecution were scheduled to resume on Tuesday and a judicial source said a ruling was unlikely before Wednesday.
“I am trusting God to reveal all truth and that we will be released and exonerated of charges, and we are just waiting for the Haitian process, legal process, to complete,” the group’s leader, Laura Silsby, said after Monday’s hearing.
The five men and five women have denied any intentional wrongdoing and said they were only trying to help orphans left destitute by the quake, which shattered the Haitian capital and left more than 1 million homeless. But evidence has come to light showing most of the children still had living parents.
The case is diplomatically sensitive as the United States is spearheading a massive international effort to feed and shelter an estimated 1 million people left homeless by the quake.
The beleaguered Haitian government, trying to cope with the country’s worst natural disaster, has tightened adoption procedures since the quake and warned that unscrupulous traffickers could try to spirit away vulnerable children.
Silsby said she was being treated well in jail and expected the legal process to take several more days.
“God is good. He’s sustaining us,” she said. “We’ve been given great care, so we’re doing fine.”
Laura Silsby (C) arrives at a Judicial Police office in Port-au-Prince February 8, 2010. REUTERS/Kena Betancur
After another hearing on Tuesday, Judge Bernard Sainvil will hold “confrontations” on Wednesday where witnesses are brought face-to-face to test the veracity of their testimony, the judicial source told Reuters.
The parents of five of the children taken by the missionaries will also be brought in to testify at some point during the hearings, the source said.
CBS News on Monday broadcast a video showing the missionaries, and the children intercepted with them, being questioned by Haitian police officers following their arrest at the border with Dominican Republic.
A man in plain clothes, apparently a senior policeman, is shown telling Silsby: “We understand all the good feelings you could have, all the good intentions, but there’s a way to do it”.
Many of the children appeared frightened and were crying.
Silsby, who looks tense and anxious in the video, is shown telling the police questioner: “Most of these children’s parents died in the earthquake just a few days ago.”
Subsequent evidence has emerged showing that most of the 33 children still had parents and came from the mountain village of Calebasse outside Port-au-Prince.
Some of the parents told police they had given up their children to the missionaries in the hope they would receive an education and a better life at an orphanage the American group said it was establishing in Dominican Republic.
In the video broadcast by CBS News, a translator puts the following police question to Silsby: “Did you have legal paper?”
She replies: “We simply wanted to help the children. We did not understand all your rules.”
Another police officer is seen angrily slapping the missionaries’ U.S. passports on the table.
Silsby said on Monday the lawyer that represented the missionaries in hearings last week, Edwin Coq, had resigned and was replaced by Aviol Fleurent.
Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami, writing by Jim Loney; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Vicki Allen
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