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Haitian gang demands $17 million in ransom

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-10-20 10:19

A woman carries a basket on her head at the "Kokoye" market in Petion-Ville, Port-au-Prince, after a missionary group including 16 Americans and one Canadian were kidnapped in Haiti on Saturday, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Oct 17, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 missionaries from a US-based Christian group have demanded $1 million in ransom for each person being held, according to the country's justice minister.

Liszt Quitel told The New York Times on Tuesday that the demand was made to the country chief of the Christian Aid Ministries, the Berlin, Ohio, organization for which the kidnapped US missionaries worked.

"Often these gangs know these demands cannot be met and they will consider a counter offer from the families, and the negotiations can take a couple of days sometimes, or a couple of weeks," Quitel said.

The kidnapped workers were abducted from Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on Oct 16 as they returned from visiting an orphanage. They include 16 Americans and one Canadian, and five of their children.

The gang hasn't yet set a deadline for when the $17 million ransom must be paid, Quitel said.

Haitian police said that the gang suspected of the abductions are known as "400 Mawozo".

The gang controls the suburbs of Port-au-Prince near where the missionaries were abducted. Members of the gang have a history of shooting at school buses, kidnapping businesspersons and police officers, fighting with rival gangs, raping women and recruiting children to work with them.

They also have attacked churches. A man claiming to be the group's leader claimed responsibility for kidnapping five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests this year. The detained clergy were later released.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed that the US is willing to negotiate with the gang to secure the release of the hostages.

"The president has been briefed and is receiving regular updates on what the State Department and the FBI are doing to bring these individuals home safely," Psaki said at a news briefing on Monday. "We can confirm their engagement, and the US embassy in Port-au-Prince is coordinating with local authorities and providing assistance to the families to resolve the situation."

The US government said it has a team in Haiti working in collaboration with the American embassy and the Haitian government to broker the release of the group.

Ned Price, the US State Department spokesman, said that officials have been in constant contact with Haiti's National Police, the missionary group and the victims' relatives.

"This is something that we have treated with the utmost priority since Saturday," Price said.

Christian Aid Ministries, based in Ohio, was founded in 1981 by members of the Amish and Mennonite sects.

All of the kidnap victims are Mennonites, Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin told The Wall Street Journal.

Christian Aid Ministries said that the kidnapped group includes six women, six men and five children. The adults range in age from 18 to 48. The children are age 8 months, 3, 6, 13 and 15 years old.

The ministries said that the missionaries had most recently been working on rebuilding homes that were lost in the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit southwest Haiti on Aug 14 and killed 2,200 people.

A spokesperson for the ministries said in a statement: "This group of workers has been committed to minister throughout poverty-stricken Haiti."

The brazen abduction of foreigners by 400 Mawozo has sparked international alarm at the growing violence by gangs against civilians in Haiti.

Local people said that the gangs usually target Haitians and the rich in one of the world's poorest nations.

Haiti's National Police reported that up until August 2021, there were at least 328 kidnappings reported. In 2020, there were 234, according to a report by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.

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