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Haitian Judge Recommends Release of 10 US Missionaries

Two members of the missionary group being held in Haiti
Two members of the missionary group being held in Haiti
David Dyar

A Haitian judge has recommended the release of 10 American missionaries accused of trying to take orphaned children out of earthquake-ravaged Haiti without proper authorization. The judge, Bernard Saint-Vil, says he sent his recommendation to the Haitian prosecutor's office. Under Haitian law, the prosecutor can oppose or support the request, but cannot overrule it. .

Outside a court house in Port-au-Prince, the judge announced his recommendation for the Americans' release.  "I await the government's decision. They (the Americans) may decide to ask the lawyer to petition for conditional liberty, after I receive that, I will decide," he said.

The five men and five women say they only wanted to help 33 orphans left destitute by the earthquake that struck Haiti last month.

They were detained and jailed in Port-au-Prince January 29, after trying to take Haitian children to the Dominican Republic. The missionaries said they wanted to set up an orphanage in the neighboring country.

Shortly after the arrests, the group's leader, Laura Silsby,  told the Associated Press that she and her colleagues only took children from orphanages or from distant relatives to be placed for adoption.

But it is now known that many of the children have living parents. And some of these parents told the judge they willingly gave up their children on the promise they would receive an education and a better life.

"It is hard to find someone to help you with the kids and we had no choice but to give the kids away because we just hope for a better life for  them. They did not force us, we all agreed to give the kids away," said Melanie Augustin, a Haitian adoptive mother.

"They have to set the Americans free. They came to help us and my wife and I agreed to give them the kids. I want a better education for them," said Antoine Johnny, father of twins.

Most of the 10 missionaries are members of a Baptist church in the western state of Idaho.

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