Authorities say ‘armed gangs’ have taken 17 people in four raids on northern Haitian town
17 American and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti
Kidnapping gangs have kidnapped 17 people, including American and Canadian missionaries, and four members of the local police force in northern Haiti.
Local officials say armed gangs have taken the missionaries to a remote village in Saint Catherine department and are holding them against their will.
Some of the kidnapped missionaries are believed to be American; others are Canadian.
The news comes amid worries that foreigners are being targeted in Haiti as well as a brewing political crisis, as President Jovenel Moïse is trying to push through a vote on a constitution that some fear is a way to derail a long-delayed general election.
On Sunday, several candidates for the race were barred by the electoral council and the frontrunner, Jude Celestin, filed a complaint with the UN-backed court that monitors the voting.
That move sparked violent protests by those who were not allowed to run and could further stall voting for the first time in nine years.
“Gunmen abducted the residents of Santa Diamante, an isolated village in Saint Catherine, at around 8pm [local time] on Saturday night and the Americans and Canadians were taken,” said Pierrot Julien, the mayor of the nearby town of Birak.
Authorities have recovered three helicopters belonging to the group from the site, where authorities in the area have been unable to locate any of the kidnapped people, said Andre Thibault, the spokesman for the regional governor.
Haiti’s government had managed to reach the village, where it met with villagers and offered to provide logistical support if authorities can locate the hostages, Thibault said.
Christopher Kuckenmeyer, a Canadian mission coordinator for the planned flight, said: “[We are] quite concerned about their safety and we continue to monitor and discuss our next steps with Canadian officials and the local authorities.”
A US family said two members of the group had been released. Tony Kooyman Jr, director of the New Beginnings Christian Center in Pendleton, Indiana, said his wife, Arlene, and daughter, Emma, were both released on Sunday.
Haiti’s new president has promised to hold elections by the end of the year, but that depends on the political approval of an elected legislature.
Prime minister Jean-Henry Ceant told local media on Saturday night that those not qualified to run for office on the basis of a decree are excluded from having their names placed on the general election list.
The country has been without a fully functioning legislative body since January 2016, when an election was postponed after protests erupted when then-President Michel Martelly left the country for medical treatment. A vote to restore the legislature took place in April 2017, and was thrown out by Haiti’s constitutional court after concerns were raised that the electoral council did not meet constitutional requirements.