Haiti charges US missionaries with child kidnapping

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Ten U.S. missionaries were charged on Thursday with child kidnapping and criminal association for illegally trying to take children out of Haiti.

The 10 Americans from two Idaho-based Baptist churches were formally charged with "kidnapping minors and criminal association," said their lawyer Edwin Coq.

Haitian Deputy Prosecutor Jean Ferge Joseph announced the charges and told the Americans their case was being sent to an investigative judge.

"That judge can free you, but he can also continue to hold you for further proceedings," the deputy prosecutor told the 10 Americans.

The missionaries were apparently stunned by the charges as they had already packed their luggage in hopes of a release.

They were arrested last week on Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic when they tried to cross the border with a busload of 33 children they said were orphaned by the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The Haitian authorities said they lacked proper authorization to take the Haitian children out of the country. Most of the children later turned out not to be orphans after all -- Haitian police said some parents admitted handing over their children to the missionaries in the belief they would get an education and a better life.

The Americans denied any ill intentions, saying they were taking the children to a converted orphanage in Cabarete, the Dominican Republic.

After the charges, the group of five men and five women, who have been held since late Friday, could face a long pre-trial detention as the Haitian law allows the prosecutors to draw up the case in three months.

U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said after the charges: "The U.S. justice system cannot interfere in what's going on with these Americans right now ... The Haitian justice system will do what it has to do."

Before the Haitian charges were announced, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley also said the United States was not seeking to interfere in the case.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Americans' behavior "unfortunate whatever the motivation."

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