October 24, 2000

Diplomats to visit Britons detained in Cuba

                  LONDON, England -- Britain will be given access to six of its nationals held
                  incommunicado in Cuba for at least two weeks, after criticising the detention as

                  The British embassy in Cuba confirmed consular access had been granted, and
                  Bernard Garside, its consul in Havana, would make the visit later on Tuesday.

                  The Cuban decision followed a sharply worded statement from Britain's junior
                  Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain.

                  The Foreign Office was verbally notified on October 9 by Cuban authorities that
                  five men and one woman had been detained.

                  "It is unacceptable that six British nationals are being held in Cuba without
                  explanation and without access," junior Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said in
                  an earlier statement.

                  "Our charge d'affaires (in Havana) has demanded that we be given immediate
                  access. If this is not forthcoming I will be calling in the Cuban charge d'affaires
                  tomorrow to demand an explanation," he added.

                  It was unknown who the group were, what they were doing in Cuba, or where
                  they were being held.

                  'Tribute to relationship'

                  "The Cubans have not informed us what the reasons are, and we can't confirm
                  them until we have seen them," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

                  When asked why it had taken two weeks to make a statement urging the Cubans
                  to give access, another Foreign Office official replied: "We have been pressing
                  the Cubans on a daily basis to let us have access."

                  Hain said the detainees and their relatives had a right to know why they were
                  being held. "And the British government has a right to offer them consular
                  protection," he added.

                  The Cuban embassy in London declined to comment about the detentions.

                  Only a month ago two Britons were released from a Cuban prison in what the
                  Caribbean island's communist government said was "a tribute to the strength of
                  its bilateral relationship with the UK."

                  Rachel McGee and Michelle Malcolm, jailed in 1999 for 15 years each on
                  drug-trafficking charges, were freed during a visit to Cuba by Patricia Scotland,
                  parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Caribbean.

                                     Reuters contributed to this report.