Ten Americans charged with Haiti child abductions

Ten US missionaries were Thursday charged with child abduction and conspiracy and may face a long wait behind bars for trial after seeking to smuggle 33 children out of quake-hit Haiti, reports AFP. The Americans from an Idaho-based charity were formally charged with kidnapping minors and criminal association, said their lawyer Edwin Coq, after his earlier hopes were dashed that most of the group might be freed. Visibly upset, the 10, who had arrived for the hearing in good spirits with their luggage already packed to leave, afterwards bowed their heads in prayer in the back of a jeep as they were returned to police detention. The group of five men and five women, who have been held since late Friday, could now face a long pre-trial detention as under Haitian law the prosecution has three months in which to draw up its case, prosecution sources said. Justice Minister Paul Denis told AFP he saw no reason why the group from the Baptist charity New Life Children's Refuge would be sent to the United States for trial. It is Haitian law that has been violated, he said. 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. If convicted, the 10 could face nine years in prison on child kidnapping charges and further jail time for conspiracy. As they were escorted into the jeep, some of the group tried to cover their faces with a black jacket. But Haitian journalists whipped it off them, and one even threw a stone before being stopped by police. The case has triggered outrage in the impoverished nation where child-trafficking was already rife well before the 7.0-magnitude quake. The group have denied any ill-intent, saying they only wanted to help those children left orphaned or abandoned by the January 12 quake which ravaged the Caribbean nation, leaving one million people homeless. Among the destitute are thousands of children who are seen as particularly vulnerable to traffickers and child predators. The missionaries were detained late Friday as they attempted to cross into the Dominican Republic with a busload of children aged from two months to 12 years. But it has emerged many of the children still had parents or relatives, some of whom may have personally handed the youngsters over to the Americans. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was unfortunate that this group of Americans took matters into their own hands. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said Thursday: We continue to provide appropriate consular assistance and to monitor developments in the legal case. The group's lawyer Coq said a Haitian pastor had authorized the Baptists to take the children out. They were missionaries who came to help, he said. US ambassador Kenneth Merten told journalists that US officials were in talks with the Haitian government. Right now I think we know that they have been having access to our consular affairs officers and to the best of my knowledge they are being treated according to Haitian laws, Merten said. We're in the process of talking with the Haitian government. What we like to do is to make sure they are being treated according to the law. 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.

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