Dominicans send 88 more to Haiti; total now 357

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NEIBA, Dominican Republic (AP) - Authorities in the Dominican Republic rounded up 88 more people and sent them to Haiti, two migrant advocates said Tuesday.

Tobias Metzner, a Haiti-based counter-trafficking program manager for the International Organization for Migration, said troops took the Haitians and others of Haitian descent to the border Tuesday night. The Rev. Antoine Lissaint of Haiti's Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Organization said separately that the 88 were taken to the southern border town of Jimani.

Metzner said the deportees were likely coerced into leaving and didn't choose to go on their own as Dominican officials have reported.

"People are being threatened to leave. What is the voluntary nature of their return?" Metzner said by phone. "They did not want to die."

The number of those who have left the Dominican Republic following an outbreak of violence on the border now stands at 357. After they crossed over, buses took them to a center run by Haiti's Office of Migration and they were given a meal and about $22 to reunite with family. The same procedure was expected for the latest group.

Some of the deportees have said they were threatened to leave. Dominican police say people wanted to leave because they feared being victims of mob violence.

The exodus began Saturday, with 244 people, after an elderly Dominican couple was slain during an apparent burglary near the town of Neiba, and a mob of Dominicans retaliated by killing a Haitian man. On Monday, 113 more people followed, Metzner said.

Dominican officials have since tightened restrictions on the border, ensuring that Haitians and others trying to cross have authorization. Ordinarily, the frontier is wide open and many people freely move between the two countries.

In and outside Neiba, the few Haitians visible in the streets say they aren't eager to be in public for long.

"We're forced to be afraid, because we're not in our country," farmer Aubin Pierre, 25, said as he walked along a highway.

A Dominican soldier played down the significance of the violence, saying the area outside Neiba is dangerous.

"You can't go there," Sgt. Enrique Canario said at one of several checkpoints between Neiba and the border. "If you go, you will be killed."

The removals come amid a politically delicate time for the two nations, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Two months ago, a Dominican court ruled that citizenship should be stripped from residents born to migrants who were living in the country illegally, and many of those affected are of Haitian descent.

Advocates say 200,000 people could lose their citizenship and documents they need to work or attend school. The Dominican government said in a preliminary report that only about 24,000 people would be affected.

The Caribbean Community condemned the court decision during a meeting Tuesday. The trade bloc also put off voting on the Dominican Republic's application to become a member.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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