Americans charged over Haiti abductions

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Ten US missionaries faced a long wait behind bars after being charged with child abduction and conspiracy for trying to smuggle 33 children out of quake-hit Haiti.

In a case that has overshadowed the massive international relief effort, the Americans were formally charged yesterday with “kidnapping minors and criminal association,” according to their lawyer Edwin Coq.

The five men and five women — who had arrived at the court in confident mood with their luggage packed — bowed their heads in prayer in the back of a jeep as they were returned to police detention.

Detained a week ago, they now face a long pre-trial detention, as Haitian law gives the prosecution three months to draw up its case.

If convicted, they could face nine years in prison for child kidnapping and further jail time for conspiracy.

They have denied ill intent, saying they were only trying to help children abandoned after the devastating January 12 quake that killed an estimated 212,000 people and left at least a million homeless.

Justice Minister Paul Denis told AFP he saw “no reason” why the group from the Idaho-based Baptist charity New Life Children’s Refuge should be sent to the United States for trial.

“It is Haitian law that has been violated,” he said. “It is up to Haitian authorities to hear and judge the case.” As they were escorted into the jeep, some tried to cover their faces with a black jacket. Haitian journalists whipped it off and one threw a stone before being stopped by police.

The case has sparked outrage in impoverished Haiti where child-trafficking was already rife before the 7.0-magnitude quake struck.

The US missionaries were held as they attempted to cross into the Dominican Republic with a busload of 33 children aged from two months to 12 years.