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Haiti detains Americans taking kids across border

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Haiti detains Americans taking kids across border

By FRANK BAJAK, Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A group of 10 American Baptists were being held in the Haitian capital Sunday after trying take 33 children out of Haiti.
The church group, most of them from Idaho, allegedly lacked the proper documents when they were arrested Friday night in a bus along with children from 2 months to 12 years old who had survived the catastrophic earthquake.

The group say they were setting up an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic.

"In this chaos the government is in right now we were just trying to do the right thing," the group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, told The Associated Press at the judicial police headquarters in the capital, where the Americans were being held pending a Monday hearing before a judge.

The Baptists' "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" was described as an effort to save abandoned, traumatized children.

Their plan was to scoop up 100 kids and take them by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, that they were converting into an orphanage, Silsby told the AP.

Whether they realized it or not, these Americans — the first known to be taken into custody since the Jan. 12 quake — put themselves in the middle of a firestorm in Haiti, where government leaders have suspended adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking.

Silsby said the group, including members from Texas and Kansas, only had the best of intentions and paid no money for the children, whom she said they obtained from well-known Haitian pastor Jean Sanbil of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.

Silsby, 40, of Boise, Idaho, was asked if she didn't consider it naive to cross the border without adoption papers at a time when Haitians are so concerned about child trafficking. "By no means are we any part of that. That's exactly what we are trying to combat," she said.

She said she hadn't been following news reports while in Haiti.

Social Affairs Minister Yves Cristallin told the AP that the Americans were suspected of taking part in an illegal adoption scheme.

Cristallin said the 33 children were lodged late Saturday at an SOS Children's Village outside of Port-au-Prince. SOS Children's Villages is a global nonprofit based in Austria.

Many children in Haitian orphanages aren't actually orphans but have been abandoned by family who cannot afford to care for them.

Advocates both here and abroad caution that with so many people unaccounted for, adoptions should not go forward until it can be determined that the children have no relatives who can raise them.

UNICEF and other NGOs have been registering children who may have been separated from their parents. Relief workers are locating children at camps housing the homeless around the capital and are placing them in temporary shelters while they try to locate their parents or a more permanent home.

The U.S. Embassy in Haiti sent consular officials, who met with the detained Americans and gave them bug spray and field rations, according to Sean Lankford of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and 18-year-old daughter were being held.

"They have to go in front of a judge on Monday," Lankford told the AP.

"There are allegations of child trafficking and that really couldn't be farther from the truth," he added. The children "were going to get the medical attention they needed. They were going to get the clothes and the food and the love they need to be healthy and to start recovering from the tragedy that just happened."

Haiti has imposed new controls on adoptions since the earthquake, which left thousands of children parentless or separated from their families. The government now requires Prime Minister Max Bellerive to personally authorize the departure of any child as a way to prevent child trafficking.

Silsby said they had documents from the Dominican government, but did not seek any paperwork from the Haitian authorities before taking the children to the border.

She said the children were brought to the pastor by distant relatives, and that the only ones to be put up for adoption would be those without close family to care for them.

The 10 Americans include members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho and the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Idaho friends and relatives have been in touch with them through text messages and phone calls, Lankford said.

The group had described its plans on a Web site where they also asked for tax-deductible contributions, saying they would "gather" 100 orphans and bus them to Cabarete before building a more permanent orphanage in the Dominican town of Magante.

"Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon our hearts the need to go now versus waiting until the permanent facility is built," the group wrote.

___

Associated Press Writers Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Hope Yen in Washington, contributed to this story.

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