Armed kidnappers hijacked a school bus carrying 14 children Thursday, and a U.S. missionary was shot and abducted while driving outside Haiti's capital, police said. The separate kidnappings came five weeks before national elections are to be held to restore democracy and stability in this strife-torn, impoverished nation. But police said they did not appear to be politically related.
The bus was taking the children to school when several armed men stopped it, boarded it and drove off down a main road heading west from Port-au-Prince, the capital, Police Commissioner Francois Henry Doussous told The Associated Press.
Doussous said the captors contacted the children's families and demanded US$50,000 for their release. The children are aged 5-17.
Also Thursday, gunmen shot and kidnapped U.S. missionary Phillip Snyder as he was driving on a road north of the capital, Doussous said. Snyder is the president of Glow Ministries International, based in Zeeland, Michigan, about 90 miles (144 kilometers) west of the state capital of Lansing, according to the group's Web site. The kidnap victim's wife, Amber Snyder, 38, said in a phone interview with the AP from Zeeland that she received a brief telephone call from her husband Thursday afternoon, where he told her that he had been kidnapped and shot. "He sounded strained," she said. "He told me he wasn't being hurt." Amber Snyder said the Red Cross was able to examine her husband.
She said a boy, about 7 or 8 years old, may have been kidnapped along with her 48-year-old husband. She said the father of the boy, who was being taken to obtain a medical visa so he could have eye surgery, also may have been kidnapped and released.
She said the one of the couple's sons, who lives in Haiti, was acting as a negotiator with the kidnappers.
Doussous said police believe the two kidnappings are unrelated. The police commander spoke with Snyder's kidnappers by phone, who said they want US$300,000 for the American's release. The kidnappers also put Snyder himself on the phone with the police commander. "A bullet fractured his arm but he say's he is fine," said Doussous, who heads Haiti's anti-kidnapping unit. Doussous said police found Snyder's bullet-riddled car near the road where he was kidnapped.
Amber Snyder said her husband's family has worked in Haiti for more than three decades in helping the poor. She said she hoped his kidnapping wouldn't keep others from helping the country. "They would not be doing this kind of thing if they were financially capable," she said. Doussous said police believe the kidnappers brought Snyder to the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil, a base for armed gangs blamed for much of the recent violence in the capital. He said they're working to secure the release of the children and Snyder, but didn't provide details.
Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, has a long history of instability. Elections are slated for Jan. 8, to elect a president and parliament. A rebellion ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. The former president, who was popular among Haiti's poor, lives in exile in South Africa.
Police and the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti suspect gangs allegedly close to Aristide are preparing acts of violence to disrupt the national elections. But Doussous said he does not believe the kidnappings are related to the purported plan, reports the AP. I.L.