3 Feb 2010

Judge questions missionaries over quake children

7:35 pm on 3 February 2010

A group of 10 US missionaries who were arrested as they tried to take 33 children out of earthquake-stricken Haiti have been questioned by a judge.

The investigative magistrate quizzed the five women for several hours and will interview the men on Wednesday, the BBC reports.

Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn-Lassegue said prosecutors would later decide whether to press charges.

The missionaries deny they were engaged in child trafficking and insist they were trying to help vulnerable orphans in the wake of a devastating 7.0 magnitude quake on 12 January.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive described them as "kidnappers" who had known "what they were doing was wrong".

He said some of the children had parents who were alive, and that the Haitian authorities were trying to reunite them.

Meanwhile, the United Nations in Haiti says 500,000 people, almost half the population of the capital Port-au-Prince, has fled since the quake.

UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes says the priorities for relief organisations in Haiti are now turning to sheltering those remaining.

Rather than seeking refuge at the resettlement camps set up by aid agencies, Mr Holmes says most refugees are going to live with friends and family in the countryside.