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5 February 2010 02:25 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Ten Americans detained last week while trying to take 33 Haitian children out of the country were charged Thursday with kidnapping children and criminal association, a government official said.

Information Minister Marie Laurence Lassegue's announcement came shortly after the five men and five women left a hearing at the prosecutor's office.

Under Haitian law, anyone accused of kidnapping a child is not eligible for bail, the attorney general's office said.

Conviction on the kidnapping charge carries a maximum penalty of nine years; the criminal association charge carries a penalty of three to nine years. It was not immediately clear whether, under Haitian law, a dual conviction could be served concurrently.

The Americans -- members of a church group -- got into two vehicles, which were driven back to the jail where they have been held since they were taken into custody. Appearing solemn, they did not respond to questions from reporters. A few sang hymns.

"We can confirm that the 10 American citizens remain in custody in Haiti," State Department deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said. "We continue to provide appropriate consular assistance and to monitor developments in the legal case."

The Americans were turned back Friday as they tried to take the children across the border into the Dominican Republic without proper documentation. They said they were going to house them in a converted hotel in that country and later move them to an orphanage they were building there.

"We can confirm that the 10 American citizens remain in custody in Haiti," said State Department deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid. "We continue to provide appropriate consular assistance and to monitor developments in the legal case."

The Americans have said they were just trying to help the children leave the earthquake-stricken country.

Some of the detained Americans have said they thought they were helping orphans, but their interpreters said Wednesday that they were present when group members spoke with the children's parents. Some parents in a village outside Port-au-Prince said they had willingly given their children over to the Americans, who promised them a better life and who said they could see their children whenever they wanted to.

Government approval is needed for any Haitian child to leave the country, and the group acknowledged that the children had no passports.

Some members of the group belong to the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho.

P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, has said 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 Wednesday.

(CNN)

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