Child-trafficking case casts cloud over global relief efforts

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Ten US Christians faced possible child-trafficking charges yesterday for trying to smuggle a group of children out of quake-hit Haiti, where the death toll has swelled to more than 200 000.

The case against the missionaries has cast a shadow over the international relief effort in Haiti, where many survivors remain desperate for food and water, triggering angry protests on the rubble-strewn streets.

Prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the quake had killed more than 200000 people. He told AFP another 300000 people injured had been treated, 250000 homes had been destroyed and 30000 businesses lost in the January 12 quake.

The sheer scale of the disaster is reflected on the ground where a million people are homeless.

"The Haitian government has done nothing for us. It has not given us the food we need," Sandrac Baptiste said bitterly as she left her makeshift tent to join demonstrations on Wednesday.

With tensions running high in the ruined capital Port-au-Prince, 300 people demonstrated outside the mayor's office in the Petionville suburb, while 200 marched to the US embassy crying out for food and aid.

Bellerive said the missionaries' case was "a distraction" for Haitians who "are talking more now about 10 people than about one million people".

The members of Idaho-based Baptist group New Life Children's Refuge were detained last weekend after they tried to cross into the neighbouring Dominican Republic with a busload of 33 children aged from two months to 12 years.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said it was "unfortunate" that "this group took matters into their own hands". The US is in urgent discussions with Haiti. - Sapa-AFP