Judge in Haiti frees eight accused of kidnapping

A Haitian judge said yesterday that he would order the release of eight of 10 American missionaries accused of kidnapping children. Laura Silsby, the group's leader, and Charisa Coulter were being detained, investigating judge Bernard Sainvil said.

The 10 Americans, mostly members of an Idaho-based Baptist church, were arrested last month on charges that they tried to take 33 Haitian children out of the country without proper documentation after the 12 January earthquake. The missionaries denied any wrongdoing, saying they had only wanted to help orphans left destitute by the disaster.

They had no Haitian identity or exit papers for the minors, many of whom had living parents who acknowledged handing over their children in the belief they would be given better care.

Judge Sainvil said: "I have prepared the draft to order the release of eight of the Americans but as far as Mrs Silsby and Mrs Coulter are concerned, I need to ask further questions," he said.

A judicial source said the two were detained because both had visited Haiti before, inquiring about orphanages.