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Thursday, September 2, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Baby trafficking is focus of probe at Kenya hospital

The Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya — Investigators are focusing on Kenya's main maternity hospital, police said yesterday, after allegations that some parents were told their newborns had died but the babies were really stolen by an international child-trafficking ring.

Five people, including the wife of a London-based Kenyan preacher, were released on bail yesterday after pleading not guilty to charges involving two infants. Self-proclaimed archbishop Gilbert Deya had claimed the two were among children born as the result of miracles he performed on infertile women.

One of the babies was stolen in February from Nairobi's Pumwani Maternity Hospital and "it is the center of our investigations," police spokesman Jaspher Ombati said. No hospital employee has been charged so far.

Since the five suspects were detained last month, many couples have come forward seeking to claim the 20 children found with the suspects, saying their children disappeared from the hospital, Ombati told The Associated Press. DNA tests found that at least 17 of the children were not related to the adults arrested, authorities said.

Deya is a prime suspect in the case, Ombati added, noting the preacher blessed infertile or post-menopausal women and sent them to Kenya purportedly to give birth. The women claimed to have delivered babies in as little as two months and then applied to British authorities to take them back to London, he said.

In London, Deya said yesterday that all allegations against him were false.

"What is happening is a setup with the Kenyan authorities and the Church of England here in the U.K. ... because they are jealous of what I've done," said Deya, who has a home in Nairobi but has been successfully preaching in Britain since 1996.

A doctor, Katini Nzau-Ombaka, said there had been allegations of babies being stolen from Pumwani hospital for years but past investigations failed to uncover any problems. "I find it absolutely negligent of the medical board for this sort of scandal," he said.

In June, Kenya's Daily Nation ran a series of stories about women who didn't believe that their babies had died at Pumwani as they were told, and the newspaper raised questions about whether the children had been stolen.

The government responded by forming an investigative task force, which reported Aug. 9 it had found loopholes in hospital procedures that could allow babies to be stolen, although it said there was no tangible evidence such things had happened.

Prosecutor Moses Odoyo said the case has led to suspects in Britain, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

When police picked up Deya's wife, Mary Juma Deya, on Aug. 20 for questioning, they took nine children from her home and collected blood samples for DNA testing.

"One child was found a possible match. We have no doubt that's her kid," said John Maina, Kenya's head of forensic sciences.

He said the other tests, however, showed she was not the mother of six of the children and tests for the two others were inconclusive.

Deya said in London that the children "are mine and my wife's, and if they say DNA doesn't match, I don't believe them."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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