February 3, 2001

Castro accuses Czechs of spying

                  HAVANA, Cuba -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro has accused the Czech Republic
                  of spying on his country in a blistering verbal attack.

                  The Czech embassy in Havana was "a cave of spies" which had "spent 10 years
                  spying," he said on Friday, during the final session of an international
                  economists' meeting in Havana.

                  His comments came as Cuba continued to hold two Czech officials, arrested in
                  the central Cuban province of Ciego de Avila on January 12 after meeting
                  pro-democracy dissidents.

                  Castro demanded that the Czech Republic offer an apology for the activities of
                  former Czech Finance Minister Ivan Pilip and former student leader Jan Bubenik
                  who were charged with acting against Cuba's security and inciting a rebellion.

                  Cuban authorities have claimed the two detainees acted on behalf of American
                  interests, gathering information and providing instructions to anti-communist
                  dissidents. They could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

                  Czech President Vaclav Havel has refused to apologise but Castro suggested
                  such action would help solve the dispute between the two countries.

                  "Offer an apology to our country -- there must be an excuse," Castro said. "We
                  are telling the truth and we have the proof."

                  U.S. officials have branded the accusations "ludicrous" and Havel and Prime
                  Minister Milos Zeman said the country had no reason to apologise.

                  "There have not been any credible charges nor any substantial evidence brought
                  against our two citizens, so I see no reason why we should apologise in this
                  matter," Zeman said earlier.

                  Czech Senate President Petr Pithart is currently in Cuba hoping to meet Castro to
                  discuss the case.

                  Pilip's wife, Lucie, who visited her husband in prison last week, said the two are
                  in good spirits and good physical condition and are awaiting trial, expected within
                  60 days

                                The Associated Press