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Haitian Protesters Demand Kidnappers Release Missionaries


Protesters in Titanyen, a town near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, take to the streets Oct. 19, 2021, to demand the release of the 17 missionaries who were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on Saturday. (Matiado Vilme / VOA Creole)

Residents of Titanyen, a village north of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, took to the streets Tuesday to demand the release of 17 missionaries kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on Saturday.

Protesters, including children, held posters and tree branches as they marched down the main road of the village.

"Without these missionaries, a lot of the old people you see out here would not have been able to send their children to school. Without these missionaries, a lot of these people would have lost their homes to floods. Without these missionaries, our damaged homes would never have been repaired," a protester who declined to give his name told VOA. "It's they who built a road that we can travel on today."

The man said he could not remain indifferent.

Another protester, who identified himself as Robert, said the missionaries had been a lifeline to the community.

"They asphalted our roads; they helped us protect our homes from landslides and floods. We are asking for their freedom right away. And we are asking the kidnappers to let us live in peace," he said. Robert told VOA that the rampant kidnappings had forced him to quit his university studies out of fear he might be abducted on his way to school.

Protesters in Titanyen, a town near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, demand the release of kidnapped missionaries, Oct. 19, 2021. (Matiado Vilme / VOA Creole)
Protesters in Titanyen, a town near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, demand the release of kidnapped missionaries, Oct. 19, 2021. (Matiado Vilme / VOA Creole)

Protesters told VOA that they intended to remain in the streets until the missionaries were freed.

Sixteen U.S. missionaries and one Canadian associated with Christian Aid Ministries were kidnapped October 16 after visiting an orphanage in Ganthier, a commune in Croix-des-Bouquets, east of the capital.

The gang is demanding a $1 million ransom for each person abducted, Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told The Wall Street Journal earlier Tuesday.

The Haitian National Police has not responded to VOA Creole's request for comment.

400 Mawozo is one of Haiti's most violent gangs. In April, it kidnapped Catholic priests and nuns at gunpoint in the Croix-des-Bouquets neighborhood. They were later released.

In Washington, the FBI confirmed to VOA via email that it is participating in a joint operation to free the missionaries.

"The FBI is part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time," the FBI told VOA.

At the daily White House news conference, press secretary Jen Psaki explained why details of the operation were being held back.

"Well, the reason we don't get into operational details is because our objective is to bring them home, and it is typically not advantageous to get into more specific details publicly during that process," Psaki said.

She added that "the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince is coordinating with authorities and providing assistance to families to resolve the situation."

Police remove a burning tire as Haitians mount a nationwide strike to protest a growing wave of kidnappings, days after the abduction of a group of missionaries, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 18, 2021.
Police remove a burning tire as Haitians mount a nationwide strike to protest a growing wave of kidnappings, days after the abduction of a group of missionaries, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 18, 2021.

Addressing the security situation in Haiti on Monday, United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the uptick in kidnappings was affecting humanitarian aid efforts.

"Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Fernando Hiraldo says that violence, looting, road blockades and the persistent presence of armed gangs all pose obstacles to humanitarian access," Dujarric said. He also called on the Haitian government to take action.

"It's incumbent on the government of Haiti to focus on the security challenges, including redoubling the efforts to reform and strengthen the national police capacity to address public safety, and all these crimes must be investigated," he said.

Tuesday's protest in Titanyen follows a general strike observed Monday in Port-au-Prince and other Haitian cities against insecurity and the rash of kidnappings.

The U.S. State Department has raised its travel advisory for Haiti to Level 4: Do Not Travel.

Anita Powell and Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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