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Haiti frees US 'child kidnap' woman
Missionary convicted for illegal travel but sentenced to three months already served.
Last Modified: 18 May 2010 02:48 GMT

Silsby had been held since January 29 [GALLO/GETTY]

Laura Silsby, the leader of a group of 10 Americans detained while trying to take a group of 33 children out of Haiti without proper documents, has been released by a Haitian judge.

Initially charged with kidnapping children in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake in January, Silsby was ordered released on Monday by a Haitian judge after she was convicted on a lesser charge of illegal travel.

The judge ruled that the three months and eight days Silsby had spent behind bars was sufficient punishment for the lesser crime, Joseph Manes Luis, a Haitian prosecutor, told the Reuters news agency.

Last week, the prosecution had recommended a six-month sentence and she had faced a maximum of three years on the charge.

The nine other members of Silsby's team, most of them linked to a Baptist church in Idaho, were released earlier but she was held the longest because she organised the venture and prosecutors said she knew that she did not have the proper authorisation to take the children out of Haiti.

Silsby, 40, returned to her cell briefly to retrieve her belongings after Monday's ruling, before quickly heading to the Port-au-Prince airport.

Silsby's group were arrested while attempting to bus 33 children from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

Eight members of the other group were released in February after a judge ruled they had not knowingly engaged in any crime.

The ninth member, Charisa Coulter, Silsby's friend and former nanny, was released in March.

Protest

Critics say that the entire incident has been a distraction from the plight of more than a million Haitians battling to pick up the pieces after the quake.

Highlighting their continuing struggle on Monday, some 1,000 protesters marched to the collapsed national palace to demonstrate against Rene Preval, Haiti's president.

The protesters accused Preval of failing to help the estimated 1.3 million people displaced by the quake. They also criticised him for seeking to remain in office for three months after his term, if polls cannot be held by November.

Tens of thousands more watched from the plastic-tarp-covered plots where they have lived since the earthquake struck on January 12.

Source:
Agencies
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