PARIS, March 1 (Reuters) - A Paris-based press freedom watchdog accused Cuba on Monday of arresting eight local journalists to prevent them from covering the trial of four dissidents.
A ninth person, Raul Rivero, who founded the independent Cuba Press news agency, disappeared on Monday morning and might also have been taken into custody by police, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement.
The so-called ``Group of Four'' dissidents, who angered the government in 1996 and 1997 with open criticism of the ruling Communist Party and calls for reforms, went on trial on Monday.
RSF said six employees of Cuba Press had definitely been arrested in recent days -- Odalys Curbelo Sanchez, Juan Antonio Sanchez, Orlando Bordon Galvez, Hector Gonzalez, Efren Martinez Pulgaron and Marvin Hernandez.
Lazaro Rodriguez and Omar Saludes Rodriguez Torres, from the Nueva Prensa Cubana, were detained on the February 26 and 28 respectively, RSF said.
``RSF believes that these arrests represent a serious attack on press freedom and asks the Cuban government that these journalists be released immediately,'' the RSF statement said.
It added that since the start of the year, 17 independent journalists had been arrested in Cuba.
Cuban security forces on Monday also blocked foreign journalists and diplomats from attending the trial of the four Cuban dissidents.
Havana denies it holds prisoners of conscience and labels the four, as it does other opposition figures, ``counter- revolutionary'' criminals backed by its foreign enemies.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited