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Parents Want Help on Kid Abductions

February 9, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Jim Rinaman says his life is ``not livable″ since his wife abducted their child, Julia, and fled to her native Germany.

A note sent by fax informed him of Julia’s fate. Almost four years have passed since her abduction, and he has had no contact with Julia since then.

``I need help,″ Rinaman told a news conference Wednesday. ``I am American. I served my country and I expect my country will be there for me.″

Rinaman was one of six American parents, each of whom has seen their spouse take off with an offspring to a distant land. In each case, custody arrangement favoring the ``left behind″ parent has been ignored, leaving those parents embittered, often broke because of costly litigation and with a profound sense of loss.

The news conference was arranged by Rep. Nicholas Lampson, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, which tries to assist missing and exploited American children.

Flanked by the six parents, Lampson said, ``To look into their eyes and see the hurt is painful.″ He said the highly publicized case of Elian Gonzalez provides an opportunity to speak out about the estimated 10,000 American children who have been taken abroad by one parent without the consent of the other.

The 6-year-old boy arrived in Florida unaccompanied from Cuba in November. His mother drowned when their vessel capsized.

The Hague Convention calls for abducted children to be returned to their place of habitual residence. It is generally agreed that the United States tries hard to repatriate abducted children who end up on American soil but numerous foreign countries don’t reciprocate.

``The norm is no return of the (American) child,″ said Tom Johnson, a State Department employee who believes his agency could do much more than it has to help him retrieve Amanda, 12, from Sweden, where she was taken by her Swedish-born mother in 1994.

Rejecting Johnson’s criticism, State Department officials say their efforts have helped repatriate numerous American children.

Jeff Koons, whose son was abducted to Italy by the boy’s Italian mother, said, ``I can stand being a victim of this but my son can’t.″ He said young Ludwig goes through periods of ``great hair loss.″ Alleging that his ex-wife is unfit, he said an Italian newspaper carried a nude photograph of his son.

``He’s being exploited,″ Koons said.

Melanie al-Mufti, an Islamic woman from Texas, said her son was spirited off to Egypt by his father two years ago. She said she has had no contact with him despite a court order awarding her sole custody.

The wife of Joseph Cooke fled to Germany with their two children in 1992. She informed her husband after her arrival in Germany that he would never see his children again. His Christmas gifts to them have been sent and returned. A U.S. court order granting him full custody has been ignored.

Tom Sylvester of Cincinnati has worked ``unceasingly″ for the return of his daughter Carina from Austria but to no avail. She was taken there at 13 months by her Austrian mother in October 1995. Court rulings, he said, have granted custody to him.

Asked why he does not go to Austria and snatch Carina away from her mother, Sylvester said U.S. authorities informed him he would risk extradition back to Austria if he tried.

Lampson said legislation is needed to assist American parents who are victims in international abduction cases. He also favors step to ``embarrass countries into abiding by the Hague Convention.″

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