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Warden Among La. Jail Hostages

December 14, 1999

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (AP) _ Negotiators worked today to persuade armed Cuban detainees frustrated with their incarceration to release two deputies and a warden from the St. Martin Parish jail.

The hostages were taken in an ``uprising″ that began shortly after 4 p.m. Monday as the detainees left an exercise area, Sheriff Charles Fuselier said. The detainees were armed with a homemade knife, but no injuries were reported.

A fourth hostage, a deputy sheriff, was released after six hours of negotiations. The jail’s other 160 prisoners were put in buses and removed from the building, which was surrounded by authorities.

``We want to be released and sent back to our country or any other country. We don’t care,″ said Jonne Ponce, one of the Cubans who telephoned television station KLFY in nearby Lafayette.

Maria Placer, station vice president for news, talked to him in Spanish and relayed messages to negotiators.

Ponce said he has been held for 13 years and was frustrated at the lack of progress in his case, the station said.

In Miami, Ruby Feria of with Mothers for Freedom, a support group for Cuban detainees in the United States, said her group received two telephone calls from the detainees early today.

The callers, who did not identify themselves by name, left messages in Spanish.

``We have a situation where we can no longer endure this and we want to be taken out of here and out of the United States,″ the first caller said, according to Ms. Feria. ``If they kill us, it is probably going to be after we have killed somebody.″

INS spokesman Mike Gilhooly said he could not verify how long Ponce has been in jail. He acknowledged some cases can go on for years because the detainee can neither be released in the United States nor deported to Cuba.

``In the case of many Cubans, we can’t remove them to their country because we don’t have agreements with the Cuban government,″ he said.

The Cubans were among a group of 60 being held in the jail for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, pending deportation or other action. Officials described it as a typical intergovernmental arrangement like those with numerous county jails around the nation.

St. Martinville, in south-central Louisiana, is about 50 miles from Oakdale, where a federal deportation center was burned by 1,000 rioting Cuban inmates in 1987. Twenty-eight employees were taken hostage and held for eight days before all were released unharmed.

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