us group up for child-trafficking

TEN members of a US Christian group could be charged with kidnapping minors and child-trafficking over an attempt to smuggle a group of children out of quake-hit Haiti, officials said.

Amid growing concern over the safety of hundreds of thousands of women and children left vulnerable after the January 12 quake, the 10 could be put on trial in a US court.

Mazar Fortil, interim prosecutor for the main Port-au-Prince court, told AFP the group might also face a charge of criminal conspiracy in Haiti, but said it was "too early to tell" whether they would be transferred to the United States.

Haiti's culture and communications minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said a Haitian judge would decide whether to transfer the case, but a first appearance for the group scheduled for Monday was postponed because a Creole language interpreter had not been made available.

The five men and five women with US passports, as well as two Haitians, were seized late on Friday when they tried to cross into the neighbouring Dominican Republic in a bus with 33 children aged between two months and 14 years.

Laura Silsby, head of the Idaho-based group called New Life Children's Refuge, insisted the group's aims were entirely altruistic.

"We came here literally to just help the children. Our intentions were good," she told AFP from police detention. "We wanted to help those who lost parents or were abandoned."

But as reports emerged that many of the children had parents, humanitarian groups worried that their fears of human trafficking amid Haiti's post-quake chaos had been confirmed.

"For us it is important to clarify how those kids have been given to those people," Georg Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children Village where the youngsters are being cared for said..

"One of the girls, 10 years old, said her mother went to the bus to say goodbye, so we have to clarify the whole situation." - Sapa-AFP