Haitian authorities questioned a group of 10 American missionaries on Monday who are accused of child smuggling in the quake-shattered Caribbean country.
A prosecutor met with the Americans at police headquarters in Port-au-Prince, where they have been held since they were arrested late on Friday trying to cross into the Dominican Republic with a busload of 33 children they said were "orphaned" by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Baptist missionaries deny Haitian charges they were engaged in child trafficking.
Haitian authorities have expressed fears the chaos and loss caused by the earthquake that killed up to 200,000 people could allow child traffickers to prey on vulnerable children.
Government officials said the detained Americans had no documents proving the children were orphans or giving them permission to take them out of the country.
"We have information about people trying to steal kids to take them out of the country, which is the reason why the government has decided to reinforce security," Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Lassegue said of the arrests.
Lassegue said it was possible the five men and five women could be sent home for trial because of the damage inflicted on the Haitian judicial system by the quake.
Evidence emerged that many of the 33 children intercepted with the missionaries were not orphans. The children included a baby and other youngsters up to age 12.
Haiti's police said some of them were handed over "voluntarily" by their parents. A woman at police headquarters who said she was the mother of five of the children said a local pastor acting as an intermediary told her they would have a better life if they went with the missionaries.
The Americans admitted they had no documents, approvals or passports for the Haitian infants.
"They really didn't have any paperwork ... I did not understand that that would really be required," the leader of the group, Laura Silsby, told CNN.
"God is the one who called us to come here and we just really believed that this was his purpose," said Carla Thompson, another member of the group, which called itself the New Life Children's Refuge.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who has cited reports of child trafficking and even human organ trafficking since the quake, has called the arrested Americans "kidnappers."
"Subject to laws"
The case of the Americans resembles that of a group of French charity workers who were detained in Chad in 2007 and accused of trying to fly 103 children out of the African country without authorization.
The six French members of the Zoe's Ark group said the children were "war orphans" from Sudan's Darfur, but U.N. officials said many were Chadian and were not orphans.
"We tell all Americans all over the world 24 hours a day that you are subject to the laws of the country where you find yourself," the U.S. consul general in Haiti, Donald Moore, told reporters on Monday.
Moore said the missionaries were being processed according to the Haitian penal system.
AgenciesLast Mod: 02 Şubat 2010, 15:33