By Pascal Fletcher
HAVANA, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Cuba said Monday it was pardoning two political prisoners serving sentences for ``enemy propaganda,'' and foreign diplomats said they would be going into exile to Spain.
A Cuban Foreign Ministry spokesman said the two, Dessy Mendoza and Jesus Chamber Ramirez, were being freed in response to a request made by Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes, who visited the communist-ruled island earlier this month.
``I can confirm that these two persons have been pardoned for humanitarian reasons,'' the Cuban spokesman said.
He could give no more details of the circumstances of their release or how it would take place.
Diplomats and human rights activists said the two detainees were reported to be suffering from health problems.
They were briefly taken last Friday from prison to their homes in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to collect personal documents for immigration formalities.
They were expected to leave Cuba for Spain shortly, perhaps as early as this week, accompanied by family members.
Mendoza and Chamber were included in a list of around 20 Cuban political detainees, designated ``prisoners of conscience'' by the London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International, whose release Spanish Foreign Minister Matutes had specifically requested during his visit to Cuba.
The diplomats said Matutes was told by the Cuban government last week of its decision to free Mendoza and Chamber.
It was not immediately clear whether the Cuban authorities had required that the two go into exile abroad as an obligatory condition for their release.
This was the formula used by the government to deport 17 political prisoners to Canada in April and May.
Chamber was serving an original 10-year sentence for ``enemy propaganda'' and disrespect toward government authority, although his jail term had been further extended to 14 years.
He already had a visa to live in Spain, the diplomats said.
Mendoza, a doctor, was sentenced to eight years in jail last year for ``enemy propaganda'' after he told foreign reporters about the existence of an outbreak of haemorrhagic dengue fever in Santiago de Cuba. After initially denying it, the government eventually admitted there had been an outbreak.
Human rights activists said the Cuban government had released more than 150 political prisoners this year and as many more common prisoners, the majority in response to a clemency appeal made by Pope John Paul II when he visited Cuba in January.
The recent trip to Cuba by the Spanish Foreign Minister opened the way for a historic visit to the island, a former Spanish colony, by Spain's King Juan Carlos and King Sofia.
This was now expected to take place in spring next year.
Cuba's government appeared to be using the prisoner releases as a way of generating goodwill and gaining political advantages in its foreign relations to bolster its position in its long-running political conflict with the United States.
Foreign governments, including the U.S. administration, have welcomed the prisoner releases but have called for more and have urged Cuba to introduce wider democratic reforms.
But Cuban President Fidel Castro has so far turned a deaf ear to these calls to adopt western-style multi-party politics and for changes to the island's penal code, which punishes political opposition to one-party communist rule.
Human rights activists say several hundred political prisoners remain in Cuban jails, although they add the numbers have fallen in recent years.
Nevertheless, Cuban authorities are preparing to bring to trial four leading political dissidents arrested more than a year ago and only recently charged with ``sedition.'' The prosecution is seeking jail terms of six years for one and five years for the other three.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited