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Haitian official: orphans turned over to United States

Evangelicals surround a voodooist during a ceremony for earthquake victims in Cite Soleil, Haiti. The crowd halted the ceremony, pelting practitioners with rocks and destroying altars.

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Evangelicals surround a voodooist during a ceremony for earthquake victims in Cite Soleil, Haiti. The crowd halted the ceremony, pelting practitioners with rocks and destroying altars.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti handed U.S. officials six orphans its police seized over the weekend as they were about to board a plane for the United States, a top Haitian official said Tuesday.

Social welfare agency chief Jeanne Bernard Pierre would not say when her office transferred the children to the U.S. Embassy, and officials there did not return calls seeking confirmation.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who intervened on behalf of the four women trying to escort the orphans out of Haiti, said the children were cleared to depart Haiti by all the required government agencies.

News of the handover followed a meeting Tuesday between U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten and Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive.

The children, ages 1 to 5, were seized by police Saturday after a crowd accosted the women escorting them at the Port-au-Prince airport. They came from the Children of the Promise orphanage in the northern city of Cap-Haitien and were bound for Miami, where adoptive parents were waiting for them.

The New York Times reported that 12 of the 54 orphans rescued by two young American women in an airlift organized by Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania and supported by top Obama administration officials last month were not in the process of being adopted, might not all be orphans and are living in a juvenile care center in Pittsburgh while the authorities determine whether they have relatives in Haiti who are able to take care of them.

Ambassador Raymond Joseph, Haiti's envoy to the United States, said he refused to approve Rendell's request to remove children from the country who were not already in the adoption pipeline. But an aide to the prime minister said his government accepted assurances from Rendell and American officials that the children — between 11 months and 10 years old — would be well cared for in the United States.

Also Tuesday, crowds attacked voodoo practitioners, pelting them with rocks and halting a ceremony meant to honor victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Voodooists gathered in Cite Soleil where quake survivors live in tents and depend on food aid. The group was trying to conjure spirits to guide lost souls when a crowd of evangelicals started shouting. Some threw rocks while others urinated on voodoo symbols. When police left, the crowd destroyed the altars and voodoo offerings of food and rum.

"We were here preparing for prayer when these others came and took over," said Sante Joseph, an evangelical worshiper who joined the angry crowd in a concrete outdoor civic center.

A magnitude 4.7 quake, meanwhile, rattled the capital at 1:26 a.m., followed by a smaller aftershock whose magnitude was still unknown, said Eric Calais, a geophysicist from Purdue University. A magnitude 4.7 aftershock struck Monday, followed by two other small tremors. Both Tuesday's quake and Monday's aftershock struck near the epicenter of the Jan. 12 quake. There were no reports of injuries.

Haitian official: orphans turned over to United States 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:54pm]

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