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Haiti missionaries to be freed

A Haitian judge is to release eight of the 10 US missionaries charged with child kidnapping.

Solicitor Aviol Fleurant said last night that group leader Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter will be held for additional questioning.

Fleurant represents nine of the 10 members of the Idaho-based group. He said the rest of the group would be free to leave today but have not arranged transport.

The group was caught trying to take 33 children out of the quake-stricken country late last month.

“They will not have to post bail,” the judge said. “But they will have to come back at the request of the court.”

It was unclear what would happen to any of the Americans the judge decides to hold.

One of the Americans, who is diabetic, was taken to a field hospital yesterday. The condition of Charisa Coulter, of Boise, Idaho, was not immediately known.

Mr Fleurant complained that Haitian police were restricting his visits to the Americans.

The missionaries, most from two Baptist churches in Idaho, are accused of trying to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic on January 29 without proper documents. They say they were on a humanitarian mission to rescue child quake victims by taking them to a hastily prepared orphanage in the Dominican Republic and have denied accusations of trafficking.

Group leader Laura Silsby originally said they were taking only orphaned and abandoned children, but reporters heard that several of the children were handed over to the group willingly by their parents, who said they hoped the Baptists would give them a better life. The group has also been embarrassed by revelations that a man who briefly served as their legal adviser and spokesman in the Dominican Republic is wanted on people-smuggling charges in the US and El Salvador.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a financial aid package worth more than €320m yesterday to assist quake-hit Haiti, as he became France's first head of state to visit the former French Caribbean colony.

The announcement came as economists from the Inter-American Development Bank put the estimated cost of rebuilding the shattered country at $14bn, making it proportionately the most destructive and expensive natural disaster in modern times.

“I have come to tell Haiti's people that they are not alone... France will be at your side in the long term,” Mr Sarkozy told a news conference in the grounds of the Haitian presidential palace. More than 200,000 people were killed in the January 12 quake.

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