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Armed group of Americans back in U.S. after arrest in Haiti, State Department says

The U.S. State Department says several men arrested in Haiti with a cache of weaponry at a time of violent demonstrations have been returned to the United States before a scheduled court hearing in the Caribbean nation.

State Department mum about their presence in Haiti, no sign yet they'll face charges in U.S.

Smoke billows from a van set fire by protesters during clashes with police amid a protest demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse near the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Feb. 12. During the days-long protests, a group of eight allegedly armed men driving in cars without licence plates were arrested. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Paul Hunter of CBC News takes your questions between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. ET today on the ongoing protests and political turmoil in Haiti.

The U.S. State Department says several men arrested in Haiti with a cache of weaponry at a time of violent demonstrations have been returned to the United States before a scheduled court hearing in the Caribbean nation.

The department said in an emailed statement that the return was co-ordinated with Haitian authorities, but a spokesperson for Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant told Radio Vision 2000 on Thursday that he was not aware of the men's departure and demanded an immediate explanation from the justice minister.

Five U.S. citizens were among eight men arrested on Sunday while allegedly carrying automatic weapons and other arms and driving in cars without licence plates. Police spokesperson Michel-Ange Louis-Jeune has said the men told police they were on a "mission," but they refused to say anything else except that they would call their unidentified bosses.

Prosecutors had said the men would appear in court on Wednesday. Instead, they were taken to the airport. One of the men is a Haitian citizen and apparently was not returned.

The Miami Herald identified the Americans, reporting that two were former navy seals while another was a former marine. The two other men were Serbians, the paper reported.

'Incomprehensible' they left: Haitian politician

Carel Pedre, a Haitian media personality, said in a video posted on Facebook that he was on a commercial flight to Miami with the men and posted a video of them on social media. He said that when the half-empty plane landed, the crew announced that officials would be boarding it before anyone could disembark. He then said U.S. officials led them away.

The Miami U.S. attorney's office referred all questions about the men's status to the State Department, which did not issue further comment. There was no public record Thursday morning of any charges against them in Miami federal court.

Jean Clarens Renois, a former presidential candidate, said in a phone interview that the situation has eroded confidence in Haiti's government.

"The seven guys easily left the country," he said. "It's kind of incomprehensible for a nation. There is no authority at all."

The arrests came after more than a week of violent demonstrations in which Haitians demanded the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse amid rising inflation and allegations of corruption. Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant has promised to reduce certain government budgets by 30 per cent, lower the cost of goods and investigate allegations of misspending tied to a Venezuelan program that provided Haiti with subsidized oil.

However, many Haitians remain wary of those promises, and Renois said people have lost trust in the government, especially given the outcome of the case involving the eight men.

"I used to read that Haiti is a failed country," he said. "Now we can say that."

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