January 25, 2001

Demand issued over Czechs held in Cuba

                  PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Czech officials have demanded the immediate
                  release of two prominent Czechs detained in Cuba after meeting local
                  anti-communist dissidents.

                  A resolution describing the detention as "unjustified" was adopted by parliament
                  on Thursday with 118 votes in favour, two against and 20 abstentions.

                  Former Czech Finance Minister and
                  now parliamentary deputy Ivan Pilip and former finance minister Jan Bubenik
                  were arrested on January 12 in the central province of Ciego de Avila, accused
                  of acting against Cuban security and inciting rebellion.

                  If convicted, they could face sentences of up to 20 years.

                  The incident has further embittered already hostile ties between communist-run
                  Cuba and its one-time socialist bloc ally, whose president, Vaclav Havel, is
                  himself a former anti-communist dissident.

                  In a letter provided by the Cuban foreign ministry to members of the Czech
                  Communist Party on Wednesday, the two men were accused of gathering
                  information and providing instructions to Cuban dissidents.

                  The letter, also published on the official Web site of the Cuban Foreign Ministry,
                  suggests Prague apologises for the incident.

                  "We have not received any official information so we have nothing to respond
                  to," a Czech Foreign Ministry press official said.

                  Cuban charge d'affaires in Prague David Paulovich said the Czech ministry was
                  awaiting official information "in vain," adding it was the Czechs' turn to act.

                  Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told parliament he was coordinating
                  international efforts to win the prisoners' release.

                  Kavan said the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation, led by its secretary-general
                  Anders Johnsson, that will travel to Cuba next week.

                  Responding to a request for help from Havel, European Commission President
                  Romano Prodi also called for their release.