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U.S. orders expulsion of 14 Cuban diplomats

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States has ordered the expulsions of 14 Cuban diplomats -- seven at the United Nations and seven in Washington -- for engaging in intelligence activities outside their official duties, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The seven Cubans at the U.N. Mission in New York are being expelled "for engaging in activities deemed harmful to the United States outside their official capacity," a U.S. official said, using diplomatic language for spying.

"These activities constitute an abuse of their privileges of residence," the official said on condition of anonymity.

No time frame was given for their departures, U.S. officials said.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman said seven diplomats in the Cuban Interests Section there were declared "persona non grata" because of "intelligence activities incompatible with their diplomatic status."

The Washington diplomats were given 10 days to leave the country, U.S. officials said.

In Havana, officials at Cuba's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The identities of the diplomats ordered to leave were not immediately released. The State Department said the head of the Cuban Interests Section, Dagoberto Rodriguez, was not among those expelled.

A letter ordering the seven U.N.-based diplomats to leave was delivered to the Cuban Mission in midtown Manhattan on Monday evening, the official said. It did not give them any time frame to depart.

The latest U.N. directory lists 37 accredited Cuban diplomats, led by Ambassador Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. The names of those ordered expelled were not released.

Cuba's U.N. Mission said Rodriguez Parrilla was traveling and "we don't have any comments in this regard."

The Bush administration and Cuban authorities have engaged in an escalating diplomatic tit-for-tat reminiscent of the Cold War days in U.S.-Cuban relations. Until Tuesday, this involved more mundane issues like fixing embassy plumbing.

Last month, the United States walked out of a U.N. meeting to protest Cuba's re-election to the Human Rights Commission, calling it "an outrage" that undermined the group's credibility.

Cuba's uncontested election to the Geneva-based commission came weeks after Fidel Castro's government sent 78 independent journalists, librarians and opposition leaders to prison for lengthy terms and executed three alleged hijackers trying to get to the United States.

"It was an outrage for us because we view Cuba as the worst violator of human rights in this hemisphere," Sichan Siv, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, said at the time.

Two months ago, Cuba clamped down on travel by American diplomats, demanding that each trip beyond a specified area around metropolitan Havana be approved. Before, the only requirement was that Cuban authorities be notified of such trips beforehand.

The State Department immediately responded by imposing the same condition on travel by Washington-based Cubans.

The Cuban measure apparently was triggered by Havana's unease over the travels of the chief U.S. diplomat there, James Cason. He logged an estimated 6,200 miles motoring around the island, sometimes meeting with dissidents.

Cuban President Fidel Castro saw these contacts as subversive and used them partly as an excuse for his March crackdown on 75 dissidents, many of whom were described by the government as traitors. All were sentenced to lengthy prison after brief trials.

The State Department defended Cason's travels, saying he was seeking a peaceful transition to democracy on the island. It rejected Cuban allegations that U.S. diplomats have provided money to dissidents.

In March, Washington dropped a Clinton-era "people-to-people" policy aimed at increasing contacts between ordinary Americans and Cubans. Under the policy, the U.S. government granted licenses to academics, athletes, scientists and others to travel to Cuba for exchange programs.

The Treasury Department is accepting public comments on the new restrictions until May 23 before the final rules are issued.

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Associated Press writer George Gedda in Washington contributed to this report.


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