OTTAWA, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Cuban President Fidel Castro remains unreceptive to a renewed Canadian plea to free Cuba's four best-known dissidents, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported on Friday.
Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy raised the issue of the four dissidents, jailed without trial for the last 18 months, during a visit to Havana on Thursday. Prime Minister Jean Chretien had brought it up during a Cuban visit in April.
"I raised it again today, following what the prime minister did, and their claim is that these people are a security problem. That's the position they take," the Citizen quoted him as saying on Thursday.
"We still think they should be brought to an open trial and whatever claims against them can be made in an open court. But their view is they are a security problem. As you know, there is a lot of history that goes on here, but it certainly doesn't hurt to keep raising the matter."
Castro met Axworthy for more than three hours over lunch during the visit, part of Canada's policy of "constructive engagement" with undemocratic leaders, which conservative politicians have criticized as misguided and unproductive.
Martha Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne and Rene Gomez Manzano were jailed in July 1997 after openly calling for democratic reforms in Cuba's one-party Communist system.
They had been involved in an abortive attempt the previous year to create an umbrella group of dissident groups on the island. But on February 24, 1996, Cuban security forces foiled a planned national meeting of the new dissident union by detaining or warning off dozens of its members.
The four were also included on a clemency-appeal list handed by the Vatican to the Cuban government during Pope John Paul's historic visit a year ago.
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