PORTLAND (AP) – Police in Sierra Leone are investigating allegations that child welfare workers associated with a Maine-based adoption agency illegally removed children from the country during a bloody civil war in the early 1990s.

Authorities said that during the war, destitute families put their children in a center run by Help a Needy Child International. Some parents said they discovered after the war that their children had been adopted by foreign families.

Roland Kargbo, the director of Help a Needy Child, was arrested Friday along with two of his employees in Freetown, Sierra Leone, said Inspector General Acha Kamara, leader of the Sierra Leone national police. They were charged with conspiracy to violate adoption laws and released on bail.

The charges stem from 1998, when Kargbo was running an orphanage near the border of Guinea. The center was overrun by rebels and abandoned. It was not re-established when the war ended in 2002.

Stephanie Mitchell, director of Maine Adoption Placement Services, which worked in concert with Help a Needy Child during the late 1990s, said the organization did nothing wrong.

“MAPS has no knowledge of any wrongdoing on the part of our Sierra Leone staff and are cooperating fully with the investigation,” Mitchell said. She added that she hopes to continue helping children in the West African nation.

It is unknown how many children from Kargbo’s orphanage MAPS placed for adoption in the United States.

The investigation into the organization is ongoing and the U.S. State Department and the Interpol police agency have been asked for help, Kamara said.

According to Mitchell, Kargbo contacted MAPS in 1996 seeking help for children in Sierra Leone. The organization has provided support for Kargbo’s orphanage and placed a number of children with adoptive parents.

Sierra Leone is recovering from a 10-year civil war that officially ended in 2002. The conflict claimed the lives of an estimated 50,000 people. United Nations peacekeepers have disarmed as many as 47,000 combatants.

MAPS was founded in 1977 by Dawn Degenhardt, the adoptive mother of nine children, and has found homes for 7,000 children. It is licensed in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and Florida.

AP-ES-09-02-04 1344EDT



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