March 27, 2000
Czechs stick to guns on call to censure Cuba

                  PRAGUE, Czech Republic (Reuters) -- The Czech Republic defended on Monday a
                  move to censure its one-time ally Cuba for human rights violations at a United Nations

                  On Sunday Cuban leader Fidel Castro said his government could end relations with
                  Prague if it tabled a resolution criticizing Cuba at the U.N. Human Rights Commission
                  in Geneva.

                  But in a statement on Monday the Czech Foreign Ministry defended its intention to
                  seek censure of the Caribbean island nation after Havana failed to heed a call by the
                  U.N. to release political prisoners last year.

                  "The situation...has not improved. On the contrary, during 1999, demands to free
                  political prisoners from jail were not fulfilled and the number tried and convicted for
                  political reasons rose," the ministry said.

                  "The Czech Republic's actions...are not led by animosity toward the Cuban people. On
                  the contrary, it considers the resolution to be an offer of dialogue with Cuban
                  authorities which could lead to the improvement of human rights in Cuba."

                  The ministry added the resolution was being prepared jointly with Poland.

                  Cuba considers opponents of the government as counter-revolutionaries backed by
                  the United States and jails them under laws that effectively outlaw active political
                  opposition outside the ruling Communist Party, headed by Castro.

                  During a five-hour speech to university students on Sunday, Castro lambasted the
                  Czech call for censure and accused Prague of acting as a puppet of the United States.

                  Since communist rule ended in then Czechoslovakia in the 1989 bloodless "Velvet
                  Revolution," the Czech Republic and Cuba have clashed publicly several times over
                  human rights.

                      Copyright 2000 Reuters.