Clin­ton’s in­ter­ven­tion could free mis­sion­ar­ies from Haitian jail

The Dominion Post - - World -

HAITI: A diplo­matic deal over the 10 United States mis­sion­ar­ies jailed in Haiti on child ab­duc­tion charges may lead to the release this week of all ex­cept the group’s leader, Laura Silsby, ac­cord­ing to le­gal sources in Port-au-Prince.

The in­ter­ven­tion of for­mer US pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, who is co­or­di­nat­ing re­lief ef­forts in Haiti, may ac­cel­er­ate the res­o­lu­tion of an af­fair that has em­bar­rassed Wash­ing­ton, dis­mayed re­lief agen­cies and an­gered many Haitians who be­lieve their plight is be­ing ex­ploited by un­scrupu­lous for­eign­ers.

Dur­ing a week­end visit to Por­tau-Prince, Clin­ton said the Haitian Gov­ern­ment was ‘‘not looking for some big fight’’.

‘‘They just want to pro­tect their chil­dren . . . I think they’ll find a way to defuse the cri­sis,’’ he said.

Ed­win Coq, the Haitian lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the mis­sion­ar­ies, has ap­plied for the release of his clients pend­ing fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but he said Silsby might be treated more se­verely be­cause of her al­leged role in or­gan­is­ing the at­tempted re­moval

Laura Silsby, leader of the US mis­sion­ar­ies jailed on child kid­nap­ping charges. of 33 chil­dren au­tho­ri­sa­tion.

The ar­rest of the group from Idaho – mainly vol­un­teers from two Bap­tist churches – was greeted with be­wil­der­ment in US church cir­cles, where the mis­sion­ar­ies were hailed as well-mean­ing do-good­ers.




Yet it has since be­come clear that few of them knew much about their leader be­fore their de­par­ture for Haiti.

Many learnt about the trip through email mes­sages cir­cu­lated by other church mem­bers and most had as­sumed that all bu­reau­cratic and le­gal de­tails had been taken care of by Silsby, 40.

Her fa­ther had done mis­sion­ary work in Haiti.

‘‘All they did was try and help,’’ said Robert Lank­ford, whose daugh­ter-in-law and grand­daugh­ter are among those un­der ar­rest.

Coq said of his clients: ‘‘Laura was the only one who had knowl­edge of what was go­ing on. The rest came to Haiti to help. It is scan­dalous that they are be­ing de­tained.’’

Silsby’s fu­ture has been clouded by US re­ports that she was press­ing ahead with plans to build an or­phan­age in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic even though she ap­peared to be in se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial trou­ble at home.

A month af­ter she founded her char­ity, the New Life Chil­dren’s Refuge, last Novem­ber, her Idaho home was re­pos­sessed. She also faces sev­eral law­suits over un­paid bills and em­ployee wages re­lat­ing to an in­ter­net busi­ness she had founded, Per­son­alShop­

Silsby had vis­ited the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Haiti in De­cem­ber and ap­peared to have cho­sen a for­mer ho­tel in the north­ern Do­mini­can re­sort of Cabarete as a pos­si­ble refuge for Haitian chil­dren.

It is not yet clear whether she suc­ceeded in buy­ing the prop­erty, but she al­legedly told Haitian po­lice that was where she was tak­ing the chil­dren. Her fa­ther, John San­der, has told re­porters that the project was ‘‘just in the mak­ing’’.

De­spite re­ports that many of the chil­dren taken by Silsby’s group were not or­phans, some Haitian par­ents de­scribed her ar­rival as a ‘‘mir­a­cle’’ that of­fered their chil­dren a rare chance of a bet­ter life abroad.

How­ever noble her in­ten­tions, Haitian au­thor­i­ties re­main pub­licly adamant that her ac­tions amounted to kid­nap­ping. The judge in charge of the case will re­sume hear­ings to­day.

Pho­tos: REUTERS

Mak­ing friends: For­mer US Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, greets US mil­i­tary per­son­nel as he ar­rives in Haiti. Clin­ton, the UN spe­cial en­voy to Haiti, is seek­ing a diplo­matic so­lu­tion over the ar­rests of 10 US mis­sion­ar­ies last week.


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