HAVANA (Reuters) -- Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina dismissed
as "totally untrue and pure speculation" on Thursday allegations by Angolan
UNITA rebels that Havana had sent troops to help the government in
Angola's civil war.
"There is a lot of speculation, but nothing could be further from the truth,"
Robaina told reporters in Havana.
Angola's UNITA rebel movement said on Sunday it had information Cuban
soldiers were being deployed alongside government troops in several cities
and that 3,000 more were on their way and would arrive in Luanda in the
next few days.
Cuba, which sent tens of thousands of troops to support Angola's MPLA
government during the west African country's first civil war in the 1970s and
1980s, last week denied any involvement in the latest fighting.
But allegations Cuban forces are returning to Angola have persisted in
statements made by UNITA spokesmen and in Portuguese newspaper
reports. One version spoke of 200 Cuban military advisers already serving
in Angola, another of 3,000 infantry troops on their way by ship.
"This is totally untrue and pure speculation," Robaina said after attending
diplomatic ceremony in Havana.
At a separate weekly briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro
Gonzalez insisted Cuba had only a "civilian presence" in Angola, consisting
of doctors and other cooperation personnel.
"We have always been willing to help our brothers, the Angolan people,
everything related to strengthening our bilateral relations," Gonzalez added at
the briefing, saying: "There is no military presence."
Asked how Cuba would respond if there was an Angolan government
appeal for military help, Foreign Minister Robaina said he did not want to be
drawn into anticipating events or giving answers to hypothetical situations.
But he said that the circumstances of the current fighting in Angola were
"substantially different" to those that existed when Cuba first sent troops
there at the time of Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975.
Then, troops from communist-ruled Cuba supported the Soviet-backed
Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government in a
long-running war against invading South African forces and U.S.-backed
UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels.
The last Cuban troops, which at times totalled up to 50,000, were
withdrawn in the early 1990s under a 1988 peace agreement brokered by
the United States and involving Cuba, the Soviet Union and South Africa.
Foreign diplomats in Havana and international analysts have greeted the
allegations of a new Cuban deployment in Angola with skepticism.
They argue a fresh Cuban intervention in Angola would not be well received
internationally and could severely set back efforts by President Fidel
Castro's one-party government to bolster its diplomatic position in the face
of continuing U.S.
economic and political pressure.
They also question whether Cuba's army, despite its past combat experience
in Angola, Ethiopia and other foreign battlegrounds, would now be prepared
to undertake a major overseas campaign, especially given it no longer enjoys
massive support from the former Soviet Union.
Castro has also made clear on several occasions that the period when Cuba
supported and "exported" armed revolution around the world and especially
in Latin America was now over, although the government still espoused
Cuba has concentrated more in recent years on civilian cooperation, sending
hundreds of doctors, teachers and even sports coaches to mostly developing
Copyright 1999 Reuters.