By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
National political leaders and members of a Meridian church are trumpeting the release and homecoming of a woman who for more than three weeks has been held in a Macedonian jail on charges of smuggling.
According to the Macedonian International News Agency, a judge in Skopje, Macedonia ruled early Wednesday that Candace Dunlap, accused of trying to smuggle 256 coins out of the country considered historical artifacts by the government, would be released, but that she’s banned from entering Macedonia for 10 years. Dunlap also must serve a two-year parole from Macedonia in the United States, according to the judge.
U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker were some of the first from Mississippi's congressional delegation to applaud the news Dunlap was coming home.
“It is great news that Mrs. Dunlap is on her way home to Mississippi,” Wicker said. “I appreciate the cooperation we received from Ambassador Paul Wohlers and his embassy team who helped the Dunlap family.”
"We got the news early Wednesday, our time, that Mrs. Dunlap was boarding a flight to come home so we were really pleased to hear that," Harper said Wednesday afternoon. "I know her family and friends are excited she is coming home."
Dunlap has been jailed since Sept. 28 in Skopje. Macedonian customs officials said they found the coins and several other ancient historical artifacts in her carry-on luggage when she and members of a medical mission team from Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Meridian were leaving the country. Dunlap has said she received the coins as a gift from a Macedonian citizen and that she had no idea of their value or that they couldn’t be transported.
A great deal of attention was given this case, Harper said. Many of the state's congressional leaders were in constant contact with the U.S. Embassy in Skopje to keep abreast of Dunlap's condition and treatment.
"The first couple of days were difficult but after that I think the embassy officials there were able to see Dunlap and get some assistance," Harper said.
Harper said one of the difficulties in trying to resolve the issue was the difference in the politics involved between the two countries. But he said the embassy officials in Macedonia did a great job in overcoming those differences.
"On a daily basis we were getting updates on Mrs. Dunlap's condition and treatment," Harper said.
Harper said he had no idea of the number or worth of the coins in question. All his office concentrated on was ensuring Dunlap's release and the fact that one of his constituents was being held overseas.
As for Dunlap's mental state as she flew home, Harper said, "There is no way for us here to comprehend how she felt being held in another country's prison or what she was going through. I'm sure these three weeks seemed like an eternity to her. We are just so glad she is coming home."