Page last updated at 23:09 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Haiti judge recommends freeing US missionaries

Missionaries Corinna Lankford, left, and her daughter Nicole Lankford, 18, both of Middleton, Idaho, being taken back to jail after being charged in Haiti - 4 February 2010
The missionaries have said they were not trying to kidnap the children

A judge has recommended that 10 US missionaries detained in Haiti for alleged child smuggling should be freed while the case is investigated.

The five men and five women, most of them from Idaho, have been charged with child abduction and criminal conspiracy.

They deny allegations that they tried to smuggle 33 children across the border to the Dominican Republic.

The group said they were taking the children to an orphanage.

But it has since emerged that some of the youngsters' parents are still alive, and many came from the same village.

The judge, Bernard Sainvil, says the missionaries should be provisionally released while he looks into the case.

According to Reuters news agency, the judge said he had signed the request for the release of the 10 Americans and sent it to the prosecutor's office.

The judge has the power to drop the charges at any time.

Better life

He says he made the decision after listening to evidence from some of the parents, who said they had no food or water to give their children.

They said they willingly gave up the youngsters because they believed they would have a better life with the missionaries.

The group's leader, Laura Silsby, has said her group had met a Haitian pastor by chance when it arrived in the country, and that he had helped them gather the children. She also admitted that the missionaries did not have the proper paperwork.

"Our intent was to help only those children that needed us most, that had lost either both their mother and father, or had lost one of their parents and the other had abandoned them," she has said from her jail cell.

The children, who are aged from two to 12, were later taken into care in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

The Haitian prime minister has warned that the case is a "distraction" from earthquake recovery.

Jean-Max Bellerive said last week that the case of the missionaries risked diverting international attention from the plight of Haitians who had lost their homes and livelihoods.

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