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US missionaries to hear fate in Haiti \'kidnap\' case

04 lutego, 2010

Ten US Christians sat in a Haiti jail on Thursday waiting to hear if they would be charged with child trafficking for trying to take children out of the quake-hit nation, where the death toll rose above 200,000.

They were to be summoned to a hearing where prosecutors will announce how they will proceed against the missionaries, whose case has cast a shadow over the massive international relief effort.

One million people are homeless after the January 12 quake and many survivors are desperate for food, water and medicines, triggering angry protests on the rubble-strewn streets at the slow pace of aid.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the 7.0-magnitude quake had killed more than 200,000 people in "a disaster on a planetary scale."

He told AFP another 300,000 injured people had been treated, while 250,000 homes had been destroyed and 30,000 businesses lost.

"The Haitian government has done nothing for us -- it has not given us any work. It has not given us the food we need," Sandrac Baptiste said bitterly as she left her makeshift tent to join a demonstration.

With tensions running high in the ruined capital Port-au-Prince, some 300 people protested outside the mayor\'s office in the Petionville neighborhood, while 200 marched toward the US embassy crying out for food and aid.

Bellerive said the missionaries\' case was "a distraction" for Haitians who "are talking more now about 10 people than about one million people suffering on the streets."

The five men and five women from the Idaho-based Baptist charity New Life Children\'s Refuge were detained as they attempted to cross into the Dominican Republic with a busload of 33 children aged from two months to 12 years.

"I\'ve carried out the preliminary investigations and have sent the case to the prosecution service," judge Isai Pierre-Louise told AFP.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was "unfortunate" that "this group of Americans took matters into their own hands" by trying to take the children across the border.

It has emerged many of the children still had parents or relatives, some of whom may have personally handed them over.

The Americans\' lawyer, Edwin Coq, said a Haitian pastor authorized them to take the children out.

"They were missionaries who came to help," he said.

Prosecutors say the group could be tried for kidnapping, child trafficking and a lesser charge of criminal conspiracy, and the government has suggested the case could be transferred to the United States.

Amid frustration over aid deliveries, UN chief Ban Ki-moon asked former US president Bill Clinton to take a leadership role in coordinating international support and donor funding.

The secretary general said they agreed Haitians urgently needed shelters ahead of the hurricane season.

The relief effort is being spearheaded by the United States which has deployed 20,000 troops to help, but deliveries have been hit by coordination problems and the sheer scale of the disaster.

Aid agencies say donations for Haiti have been much lower than for the 2004 Asian tsunami, where the death toll was about 220,000.

The international Red Cross raised three billion dollars after the tsunami but the figure for the Haiti quake -- the worst natural disaster on record in the Americas -- stands at just 555 million dollars.

Cephas Lumina, the UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, demanded an immediate cancellation of Haiti\'s debt to multilateral creditors such as the World Bank.

He said donors should provide unconditional grant-aid to help Haiti, which owes some 890 million dollars to international creditors.

Lumina criticised an International Monetary Fund loan of 114 million dollars as "profoundly inappropriate" for a country whose economy had collapsed and which would take at least a decade to recover.