US missionaries to stand trial for kidnap

Ten members of a US missionary group who said they were trying to rescue 33 child victims of Haiti's earthquake were charged with child kidnapping and criminal association yesterday.

Their lawyer, Edwin Coq, said after a court hearing that a judge found sufficient evidence to charge the Americans, who were arrested at Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic. Coq attended yesterday's hearing and represents the entire group in Haiti.

Group leader Laura Silsby has said they were trying to take orphans and abandoned children to an orphanage in the neighboring Dominican Republic. She acknowledged they had not sought permission from Haitian officials, but said they just meant to help victims of the quake.

The children taken from the group, ranging in age from 2 to 12, were being cared for at the Austrian-run SOS Children's Village in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.

The US citizens, most of them members of an Idaho-based church group, were whisked away from the closed court hearing to jail in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Silsby waved and smiled faintly to reporters but declined to answer questions.

Coq said that under Haiti's legal system, there won't be an open trial, but a judge will consider the evidence and could render a verdict in about three months.

Each kidnapping count carries a possible sentence of five to 15 years in prison. Each criminal association count has a potential sentence of three to nine years.

Coq said that nine of the 10 knew nothing about the alleged scheme, or that paperwork for the children was not in order.

"I'm going to do everything I can to get the nine out," Coq said. That would still leave mission leader Laura Silsby facing charges.