Baptists in kidnap probe turn on leader

TEN Baptist missionaries are facing kidnapping charges in Haiti for trying to take 33 children out of the country, and the lawyer for all the defendants is putting the blame on the group’s leader.

Attorney Edwin Coq said Laura Silsby knew the group couldn’t remove the youngsters without proper paperwork, while he characterised the other nine missionaries as unknowingly being caught up in actions they didn’t understand.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get the nine out. They were naive. They had no idea what was going on and they did not know that they needed official papers to cross the border. But Silsby did,” Coq said after a magistrate charged the 10.

Silsby waved to reporters but declined to answer questions as the missionaries were taken back to the holding cells where they have been held since Saturday. Haitians left homeless by the January 12 earthquake sat idly under tarps in the parking lot, smoke rising from a cooking fire.

Silsby had expressed optimism before the hearing. “We expect God’s will to be done. And we will be released,” she told reporters.

The missionaries’ detention has raised concerns among other countries including France, whose foreign ministry yesterday urged the Haitian government to quickly set up a bilateral commission to look into adoption procedures. French families have taken in 277 Haitian children since the quake.

Family members of the detained Americans released a statement saying they were concerned about their jailed relatives.

“Obviously, we do not know details about what happened and didn’t happen on this mission,” the statement said. “However, we are absolutely convinced that those who were recruited to join this mission travelled to Haiti to help, not hurt, these children.”

The Baptist group, most of whose members are from two Idaho churches, had said they were rescuing abandoned children and orphans from a nation that UNICEF says had 380,000 youngsters in that plight even before the quake.

But at least two-thirds of the children involved in the case, ranging in age from 2 to 12, have parents, some of whom said they gave the children up because the missionaries promised them a better life.

The investigating judge, who interviewed the missionaries, found sufficient evidence to charge them with trying to take the children across the border into the Dominican Republic on January 29 without documentation, Coq said.

Each was charged with one count of kidnapping, which carries a sentence of five to 15 years in prison, and one of criminal association, punishable by three to nine years. Coq said the case would be assigned a judge and a verdict could take three months.

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