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Detained Americans appear in court, Haitian officials say

By Karl Penhaul and Lonzo Cook, CNN
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Americans accused of trafficking
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 10 American Baptist missionaries arrested at border with Dominican Republic
  • Missionaries say they were trying to help children leave earthquake-stricken Haiti
  • Haiti accuses the Americans of kidnapping
  • Children being kept by authorities while investigation continues

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Ten Americans accused of illegally trying to take 33 children out of Haiti appeared in a preliminary hearing with a judge on Tuesday, court officials said.

A list of charges will be drawn up at the hearing, court officials said.

The missionaries say they were just trying to help the children leave the earthquake-stricken country, but Haiti's prime minister has said the group was kidnapping the children.

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After Tuesday's hearing, the preliminary hearing judge will send the charges to a tribunal judge, court officials said, and the Americans eventually will appear before a tribunal.

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The Americans were turned back Friday night as they tried to take the children across the border into the Dominican Republic. At least some of the group are members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho.

They are being held in a jail in Port-au-Prince. Members of the group described conditions as sparse, but said they are getting sufficient amounts of food and water.

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P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said Monday that U.S. officials have been given unlimited consular access to the Americans and that U.S. and Haitian authorities are "working to try to ascertain what happened [and] the motive behind these people.

"Clearly there are questions about procedure as to whether they had the appropriate paperwork to move the children," he said.

The group said they were trying to move the children to the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake that devastated parts of Haiti, flattening the capital and killing tens of thousands.

They said they were going to house them in a converted hotel in the Dominican Republic.

But without proper documentation, the group was turned back at the border. Government approval is needed for any Haitian children to leave the country, and the group acknowledged that the children have no passports.

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The Haitian government has accused the American missionaries of kidnapping and is investigating the incident before releasing the children back to their families.

"The children certainly were not fully willing to go, because in some cases, from what I heard, they were asking for their parents, they wanted to return to their parents," said Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

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