June 28, 1999
Britain urges Cuba to release dissidents
By Michael Christie
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 27 (Reuters) - Britain's Foreign Secretary Robin Cook pressed Cuba on Sunday to free four dissidents sentenced earlier this year for criticising the island's communist ruling party, a diplomat said.
A Foreign Office source said that Cook, in the first meeting of foreign ministers from the two nations since the 1959 Cuban revolution, expressed Britain's concern for human rights and individual freedoms.
Cook met with his Cuban counterpart Felipe Perez Roque in Rio de Janeiro ahead of a two-day European Union-Latin American presidential summit aimed mainly at boosting trade between the two regions.
``The foreign secretary reminded the Cubans there is EU concern about this case,'' said the official who asked not to be named.
The four dissidents were sentenced in March for urging changes to the government of Cuban President Fidel Castro. Castro was expected to join the summit late Sunday.
Numerous countries, including Canada and Spain -- two of the communist-led island's closest Western allies -- condemned Cuba's closed-door trial on March 1 as a violation of basic human rights.
The Foreign Office source, however, said Cook welcomed the growth of Cuba's tourism industry and greater contact between the two countries.
He also said the British foreign minister expressed concern over Cuba's trade problems, caused primarily by the 1996 U.S. Helms-Burton law which allows the United States to penalise foreign companies that invest in Cuban property seized after the 1959 revolution.
``The foreign secretary said the EU as a whole was opposed to extra-territorial legislation,'' the official said.
One of the clauses in the declaration that presidents are expected to sign at this week's Rio summit takes a stand against the U.S. position by rejecting laws that try to impose one country's domestic policies on others.
Cook and Roque also discussed cooperation in the fight against the drugs trade. Britain recently donated 250,000 pounds sterling (about $400,000) to Cuba to help it train anti-narcotics agents.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited
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