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Administration Mum on Trinidad as U.S. Hostage Experts Called In

July 29, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. officials reacted cautiously Sunday to a report that a compromise had been reached in the coup attempt in Trinidad as sources said American hostage experts provided advice by telephone on how to deal with the crisis.

The State Department said it could not confirm a report that Prime Minister Arthur Robinson had negotiated an agreement with black Moslem extremists that called for Robinson to resign and set new elections.

″I don’t have confirmation of reports on minute-to-minute developments,″ a department official said, adding the department’s special task force on Trinidad expected a ″long afternoon.″

″We are in touch with our embassy there and are closely monitoring the situation,″ the official said. ″Obviously we support the government and are coordinating closely with them until the situation is resolved.″ The official spoke only on condition of anonymity.

President Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, were following the situation from the president’s summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Presidential spokeswoman Alixe Glen said the situation in Port-of-Spain appeared unchanged Sunday.

″We fully support the government of Prime Minister Robinson and hope for a peaceful solution to the situation there,″ said Ms. Glen, who earlier said American tourists on the island appeared safe.

An administration official with the president in Maine said, ″The Trinidadians would like to find a solution on their own without any outside assistance. They’d just rather settle it themselves.″

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said island officials had contacted U.S. officials Saturday to determine whether the United States would send in advisers if requested.

″But as of this morning, no specific request″ has been made, the official said.

While U.S. officials support Trinidad’s government as a model of democracy, there was no talk of any direct U.S. military involvement in the crisis, administration aides said.

The Navy has 10 ships on routine exercises in the Caribbean, a Navy spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Gregg Hartung, said.

Hartung added that the Defense Department never discusses ship movements, but the U.S.S. Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier, recently visited Port-of-Spain on a scheduled stopover. It remained there from July 20-23, he said.

Abu Bakr, the leader of a Moslem sect, launched the coup attempt late Friday by seizing the Parliament building in Port-of-Spain and capturing Robinson and about 40 other hostages.

The State Department said Abu Bakr’s group, Jamaat al-Muslimeen, has ties to Libya, and members may have received training in the North African nation.

Angus Khan, the ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago to the United States, said the negotiations between his government and the ″terrorists over the release of the hostages are very delicate.″ He refused to say more.

But a Bush administration official said American experts on hostage situations had been in contact with government officials in Trinidad.

Initially, Trinidad’s government asked for U.S. hostage experts to go to the Caribbean island about eight miles off the coast of Venezuela to give on- the-spot help. However, island officials later rescinded that request, one official said.

The twin island state of Trinidad-Tobago, whose population is about 1.2 million, was granted independence from Britain 28 years ago. It’s economy was in good shape in the 1970s as a result of oil reserves, but the declining price of oil in the 1980s sparked unemployment and led to dwindling earning from exports.

Although the economy is not as strong as it once was and unemployment is high, U.S. officials say the country does not receive U.S. financial aid and the standard of living is relatively high for a developing country.

Robinson, the prime minister, and head of the National Alliance for Reconstruction, was swept into office in December 1986 when voters rejected the 30-year domination of the People’s National Movement. Economic issues dominated the campaign.

Robinson had pledged to divest some state-owned industries, though not oil production, and encourage private investment.

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