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Cuban Asylum-Seekers Seize Hostages in Havana

July 17, 1990

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Seven Cuban asylum-seekers seized several diplomats as hostages Monday at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Havana and then threatened to blow up the building, official news reports here and in Mexico said.

Czechoslavak television reported later that all six diplomats were released unharmed by the kidnappers. The official CTK news agency reported earlier that four diplomats had been taken hostage.

Mexico’s Notimex news agency said the captors demanded a plane to the United States. It said five other refugees were also seized.

It was the second such incident the past week in Havana, capital of Communist Cuba. On Thursday, five Cubans occupied the apartment of the Czechoslovak charge d’affaires and held him hostage a few hours.

A total of 15 Cubans seeking asylum had taken refuge at the Czechoslovak and Spanish embassies in Havana. The affair has soured Cuban relations with Czechoslovakia, which was a close ally before last fall’s democratic upheaval toppled Prague’s hard-line Communist leaders.

The refugee crisis has also put Cuba at odds with Spain. Madrid lodged a protest after Cuban authorities chased an asylum-seeker onto the grounds of the Spanish Embassy and hauled him away Sunday. Three refugees remain there.

In his first official statement on the crisis, Cuba’s President Fidel Castro called the Cuban refugees ″anti-social elements encouraged by Czechoslovak diplomats,″ the Czech newspaper Lidova Demokracie said Monday.

In its report, Czechoslovakia’s official news agency said the Czechoslovak diplomats were taken hostage when the Cubans broke into a meeting.

It said the Cubans acted ″very violently,″ but it was not clear if they had weapons. The news agency said no one was hurt.

The Mexican news agency said the seven Cuban hostage-takers had been in the embassy six days. It said also they took five fellow refugees captive.

A total of 12 refugees had reportedly been holed up at the embassy. The first Cubans arrived there July 9.

The Czechoslovak news agency said the hostages had included Jan Doemoek, the charge d’affaires who was held hostage at his apartment. He escaped from the apartment, which is not in the embassy compound.

CTK, quoting its correspondent in Havana, also said the hostage-takers had been holding a Foreign Ministry official who came to Havana to try to negotiate the departure of the Cubans in the embassy.

Notimex, reporting from Havana, quoted unidentified journalistic sources in saying the seven Cubans demanded a plane to the United States. It said the hostages had been held in the offices of the ambassador.

It said they later shouted out a window they would blow up the embassy if their demand for a plane was not met. They set a deadline of 8 p.m. (8 p.m. EDT) but it passed without any explosion reported.

Czechoslovak TV’s reporter in the Cuban capital said the seven had barricaded themselves inside the embassy and demanded everyone leave the embassy grounds after releasing the hostages.

The correspondent described the seven barricaded inside as ″hysterical.″

There was no mention in that report of other refugees being held hostage.

Associated Press phone calls to the Foreign Ministry in Prague went unanswered.

In a statement Monday night, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said it will negotiate the refugees’ demands for diplomatic safe-conduct passes to go abroad, according to Notimex.

The statement said the Cuban government insisted the refugees holed up in the embassy ″must leave unconditionally.″

Czechoslovak state television quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Lubos Dobrovsky as saying a deputy foreign minister would leave for Havana immediately because ″it is necessary to protect the safety of Czechoslovak citizens.″

Dependents of some Czechoslovak diplomats have already left Havana. About 30 Czechoslovaks left Sunday on a regular flight, the daily Lidova Demokracie in Czechoslovakia reported Monday. Foreign Ministry official Jindrich Opava said they included some families of diplomats.

The official, however, said left at their own request - not under evacuation orders.

The Cubans who broke into the charge d’affaire’s apartment remained there Monday. They have been denied asylum by Czechoslovakia because of their actions.

In his remarks quoted by the Czech newspaper, Castro was also quoted as saying Cuba has no agreement on diplomatic asylum with European countries, so their embassies have no right to grant asylum.

″Czechoslovak diplomats in Havana try to interpret the situation in a way that indicates that Cuban government should solve the situation. ... The affair should be solved by the Czechoslovak side,″ the daily quoted Castro as saying.

The refugee problem poses an embarrassment for Castro, who has resisted the reforms sweeping Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Instead, he has continued to espouse orthodox Marxist policies.

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