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US, Haiti Seek Missionaries   10/18 06:26

   U.S. officials are working with Haitian authorities to try to secure the 
release of 12 adults and five children with a U.S.-based missionary group who 
were abducted over the weekend by a gang notorious for killings, kidnappings 
and extortion.

   PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- U.S. officials are working with Haitian 
authorities to try to secure the release of 12 adults and five children with a 
U.S.-based missionary group who were abducted over the weekend by a gang 
notorious for killings, kidnappings and extortion.

   The group was snatched by the 400 Mawozo gang, which controls the 
Croix-des-Bouquets area east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, police inspector 
Frantz Champagne told The Associated Press on Sunday. The abduction happened 
Saturday in the community of Ganthier, which lies in the gang's area. It was 
blamed for the kidnapping of five priests and two nuns earlier this year.

   As authorities sought the release of the 16 Americans and one Canadian with 
the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, local unions and other organizations 
expected to launch a strike Monday to protest Haiti's worsening lack of 
security.

   The Western Hemisphere's poorest nation is again struggling with a spike in 
gang-related kidnappings that had diminished in recent months, after President 
Jovenel Mose was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7 and a 
magnitude 7.2 earthquake killed more than 2,200 people in August.

   "Everyone is concerned. They're kidnapping from all social classes," Mhu 
Changeux, president of Haiti's Association of Owners and Drivers, told Magik9 
radio station.

   He said the work stoppage would continue until the government could 
guarantee people's safety.

   The kidnapping of the missionaries came just days after high-level U.S. 
officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for Haiti's National 
Police, including another $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this 
year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in temporary shelters in 
increasingly unhygienic conditions.

   The U.S. State Department said Sunday that it was in regular contact with 
senior Haitian authorities and would continue to work with them and interagency 
partners.

   "The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest 
priorities of the Department of State," the agency said in a statement.

   Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included seven women, five 
men and five children, including a 2-year-old. The organization said they were 
taken while on a trip to visit an orphanage.

   "Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers and 
the families, friends and churches of those affected," Christian Aid Ministries 
said in a statement. "As an organization, we commit this situation to God and 
trust him to see us through."

   An annual report issued last year by Christian Aid Ministries said its 
American staffers had returned to their base in Haiti after a nine-month 
absence "due to political unrest" and noted the "uncertainty and difficulties" 
that arise from such instability.

   Nearly a year ago, Haitian police issued a wanted poster for the alleged 
leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, Wilson Joseph, on charges including murder, 
attempted murder, kidnapping, auto theft and the hijacking of trucks carrying 
goods. He goes by the nickname "Lanm Sanjou," which means "death doesn't know 
which day it's coming."

   Amid the spike in kidnappings, gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from a 
couple of hundred dollars to more than $1 million, sometimes killing those they 
have abducted, according to authorities.

   At least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haiti's National Police in the 
first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, said 
a report last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.

   Gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police 
officers, busloads of passengers and others as they grow more powerful. In 
April, a man who claimed to be the leader of 400 Mawozo told a radio station 
that it was responsible for kidnapping five priests, two nuns and three 
relatives of one of the priests that month. They were later released.

   The spike in kidnappings and gang-related violence has forced Haitians to 
take detours around certain gang-controlled areas while others opt to stay 
home, which in turn means less money for people like Charles Pierre, a moto 
taxi driver in Port-au-Prince who has several children to feed.

   "People are not going out in the streets," he said. "We cannot find people 
to transport."

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