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2 KIDNAPPED MISSIONARIES FREED IN HAITI

By STEVENSON JACOBS, Associated Press Writer

July 20, 2006

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Two North Carolina missionaries kidnapped on their way to church in Haiti's capital were freed Thursday after a ransom was paid, the FBI said.

Tom Barron, a minister at The Mustard Seed church, and congregation member William Eugene Seastrum were driving to church early Sunday when assailants stopped their car and dragged them out, said Leslie Dallemand, chief of the U.N. peacekeeping mission's anti-kidnapping unit. Both missionaries are from High Point, N.C.

The captors initially sought $500,000 but lowered their demand to $100,000 during negotiations with the FBI, Dallemand said.

The men were released Thursday after a ransom was paid, FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said from Miami.

"They negotiated the amount and they were released," Orihuela said.

She declined to say how much ransom was paid and had no information about the men's conditions.

"As far as I know, they're pretty healthy," Dallemand said earlier. "The kidnappers didn't speak English. They made (one missionary) call his wife in North Carolina, and he did say he was OK."

Separately, Orihuela said another American was released Thursday after a day in captivity when an undisclosed ransom was paid.

Also, a Haitian employee of the U.S. Embassy was kidnapped Wednesday while driving in an embassy vehicle with diplomatic license plates.

Kidnappings, once relatively rare in Haiti, became a regular occurrence after a bloody revolt toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. Kidnappings leveled off following the February election of President Rene Preval, but the problem has worsened since.

U.N. officials blame much of the kidnappings and other violence on well-armed gangs — some of which are loyal to Aristide and want Preval to allow the ousted president to return from exile in South Africa.

The United Nations, which has about 8,800 peacekeepers in the country, believes that much of the violence is aimed at destabilizing the new government. But Preval says drug traffickers, corrupt police and other criminals are behind the problems.

The special U.N. envoy to Haiti, Edmond Mulet, met with Preval on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the deteriorating security climate, officials said.

On Wednesday, gunmen stopped dozens of cars traveling along a main road leading to the airport in the impoverished capital and tried to seize the occupants, Dallemand said. At least two Haitians were reported kidnapped.

The attacks were followed by heavy shooting that killed at least six people and injured several others in different parts of the capital, radio Kiskeya reported, suggesting a level of coordination among the gangs not seen in months.

It is unclear how long Barron and Seastrum have been in Haiti. Dallemand said the two were staying at a hotel in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Delmas, where many kidnappings occur.

Dallemand said the FBI is working with U.N. and Haitian authorities to free the men, the latest foreign missionaries to be kidnapped.

Last month, Canadian missionary Ed Hughes was abducted from a rural town north of Port-au-Prince where he runs an orphanage. The 72-year-old was freed a week later after an undisclosed ransom was paid.

At least 29 people have been reported kidnapped in Haiti so far in July, and about a third of them are U.S. citizens, Dallemand said.

Last year, 40 Americans were kidnapped in Haiti and three more were killed in attempted abductions, according to the U.S. State Department.

 

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