Ten US christians may face Haiti kidnapping charges

2010-02-02 12:04

TEN members of a US Christian group could be charged with

kidnapping minors and child-trafficking over an attempt to smuggle a group of

children out of quake-hit Haiti, officials have said.

Amid growing concern over the safety of hundreds of thousands of

women and children left vulnerable after the January 12 quake, the 10 could face

trial in US court where, if convicted, they could face severe penalties.

Mazar Fortil, interim prosecutor for the main Port-au-Prince court,

told AFP the group may also face a lesser charge of criminal conspiracy, but

said it was “too early to tell” whether they will be transferred to the

US.

Haiti’s Culture and Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn

Lassegue said a Haitian judge would decide whether to transfer the case, but a

first appearance for the group scheduled for Monday was postponed because a

Creole language interpreter had not been made available.

The five men and five women with US passports, as well as two

Haitians, were seized late Friday as they tried to cross into the neighbouring

Dominican Republic in a bus with 33 children aged between two months and 14

years.

Laura Silsby, head of the Idaho-based group called New Life

Children’s Refuge, insisted the group’s aims were entirely altruistic.

“We came here literally to just help the children. Our intentions

were good,” she told AFP from police detention. “We wanted to help those who

lost parents in the quake or were abandoned.”

But as reports emerged that many of the children had parents,

humanitarian groups worried that their fears of human trafficking amid Haiti’s

post-quake chaos had been confirmed.

“For us it is important to clarify how those kids have been given

to those people,” Georg Willeit, a spokesperson for SOS Children Village where

the youngsters are being cared for, told AFP Monday.

“One of the girls, 10 years old, said that her mother went to the

bus to say goodbye, so we have to clarify the whole situation.”

State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley said Washington would be

guided by Haitian officials.

“Once we know the facts we’ll determine what the appropriate course

is, but the judgement is really up to the Haitian government,” he said.

Shortly after the January 12 quake, parents around the world

waiting to adopt Haitian children pushed governments to speed up the process and

Crowley said Monday that some 578 orphans had been brought to the US under

relaxed adoption regulations.

On the ground in Haiti, aid distribution continued, but the UN’s

humanitarian chief acknowledged that the relief effort was still struggling

nearly three weeks after the quake killed some 170 000 people.

Outside the ravaged capital, mourners gathered at a hilltop site

where mass graves were dug to hold the bodies of thousands killed in the

quake.

“Until now, I did not have the chance to honour the memory of my

classmates who died,” Desermithe Pierre, 16, told AFP sadly at the site in

Titanyen.

The dead were still being accounted for Monday, with El Salvador

confirming that Gerardo Le Chevalier, a Salvadoran citizen and head of the

United Nations Electoral Assistance unit in Haiti, was killed in the 7.0 quake.


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