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Detained Americans Set Free

Eight of the 10 American Baptist missionaries jailed by Haitian authorities in late January on suspicion of kidnapping 33 children were set free by a judge Wednesday.

By Melissa Arteaga Marti | PODER360.com
Ruth Fremson | The New York Times

Laura Silsby, left, and Charisa Coulter are driven away from a courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They are members of a Baptist congregation from Idaho who tried to take 33 Haitian children to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic, according to prosecutors.

A Haitian judge on Wednesday ordered the release of eight of the 10 Americans accused of child trafficking, but decided that two members of the group, including its leader, would remain in jail for more questioning.

The Idaho Baptist missionaries have been in jail since they were arrested on January 29 trying to take the 33 children across the border to the Dominican Republic 17 days after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed at least 212,000 people in Haiti. They had no Haitian identity or exit papers for the children.

The eight left for Miami on Wednesday evening, eight hours after they were released, as a swarm of reporters watched the U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane, carrying the group from a tarmac in Port-au-Prince.

The group seemed tired and disoriented as they walked out of the Haitian jail, escorted by U.S. diplomats. The eight waited until they were safely inside a white passenger van before flashing smiles to reporters.

"The parents of the kids made statements proving that they can be released," Judge Bernard Saint-Vil said, adding that the two other Americans, group leader Laura Silsby, and her nanny, Charisa Coulter, would remain in jail for further questioning.

Magistrate Saint-Vil's ruling allows the eight to leave Haiti as long as they return to the country to answer further questions later.

Embarrassed – but no smugglers

Group members early on had been embarrassed by revelations that their legal adviser and spokesman in the Dominican Republic had pending charges for people-smuggling in the United States and El Salvador.

Jorge Puello, a Dominican Republic national who was acting as adviser to the missionaries after their arrest last month, appeared to be complicating the case against the Americans, despite initial indications they would be freed.

U.S. media reports that El Salvador authorities are investigating whether Puello was the same person suspected of running a human trafficking ring that recruited Central American and Caribbean women and girls and forced them to work as prostitutes.

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