Page last updated at 06:32 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Eight missionaries freed by Haiti back in US


The released missionaries arrive at Miami airport

Eight of the 10 American missionaries accused of abducting children in Haiti after last month's quake have been released and are now back in the US.

They were flown to Miami aboard a US military plane after being freed by a Haitian judge, but may have to return for further questioning.

Their two leaders remain in detention. The Americans were arrested after trying to leave Haiti with 33 children.

They said the children were orphans but some were found to have living parents.

Earlier on Wednesday, Haitian President Rene Preval greeted French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had arrived to assess the aid efforts.

Leaders held

The missionaries, from the New Life Children's Refuge, face charges of child abduction and criminal conspiracy.

Girl carries water in Port-au-Prince, 17 Feb
The case has drawn criticism that it is distracting from the aid effort

The group's leader, Laura Silsby, and one other member, Charisa Coulter, are being held for further investigation.

Ms Silsby has admitted that the missionaries did not have the proper paperwork for the children, who were later taken into care by the Haitian authorities.

"The judge wants to question two of my clients because they were in Haiti before the earthquake," the group's lawyer, Aviol Fleurant, told AFP news agency.

The five men and five women, mostly from Idaho, were arrested 17 days after the quake that killed up to 230,000 people.

They denied allegations that they had tried to smuggle the children across the border to the Dominican Republic, saying they were taking the children to an orphanage.

Sarkozy visit

The case has drawn huge media attention - and criticism from some, including the Haitian prime minister, that it is distracting from earthquake recovery.

Mr Sarkozy pledged 270m euros (£235m) in reconstruction aid as he became the first French head of state to visit the former colony.

Mr Sarkozy said: "France will live up to the responsibilities of its shared history and friendship with Haiti."

More than a month after the 12 January earthquake, hundreds of thousands of homeless quake victims are still sheltering in makeshift camps scattered across the ruined capital.

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