3 Cubans are killed in hijack attempt
A second boat nears Bahamas
BY JENNIFER BABSON AND MARIKA LYNCH
Three Cuban men killed each other and wounded a 10-year-old boy in one of two attempts in 24 hours to hijack boats and flee to the United States, the Cuban government said Tuesday.
Local fishermen and police blocked the first hijacked boat in
western Pinar del Río province Monday, and the three hijackers then
shot the boy and each other, Cuba's
Interior Ministry said in a statement.
U.S. government officials in Washington later said they suspected the deaths were the result of a botched effort by Cuban security forces to stop the hijacking but declined to offer any evidence for their belief.
Another boat, a government mapping vessel that Cuba said was
hijacked in eastern Camagüey province early Tuesday, reached Bahamian
waters by noon under close
watch of a U.S. C-130 aircraft, U.S. and Bahamian officials said.
U.S. authorities also questioned whether the second boat had been hijacked or stolen and whether any weapons had been used in that incident.
The two boat seizures were the first since three men were tried, convicted and executed nine days after the armed hijacking of a ferry from Havana Harbor on April 2, a punishment that brought President Fidel Castro's government condemnation from around the world.
''It has that summer of '94 feel,'' a U.S. federal official said, referring to the so-called Balsero Crisis that year when Castro allowed 30,000 rafters to leave the island for U.S. shores.
The first hijacking unfolded early Monday when three men armed with a .45 caliber pistol, plus a woman and her two sons, tried to overtake the fishing boat Ferrocemento #18 in the port of La Coloma in the western province of Pinar del Río, according to the Interior Ministry statement, the Associated Press and Prensa Latina news agency reported.
Not knowing how to operate the boat, the men tried to get a local captain to start it, but he escaped by jumping overboard.
After local fishermen and police surrounded the boat, the hijackers threatened to kill women and children, calling them hostages although the woman was believed to have been part of the hijackers' group, according to the official Cuban version.
Shooting broke out inside the boat, the Cuban statement added, without giving a reason.
Witnesses then saw the older boy, a 17-year-old, leaving the boat while cradling his 10-year-old brother.
The mother followed and the boy was taken to a hospital with a gunshot wound to the head.
Cuban authorities later stormed the boat and found two men dead and another gravely wounded who died later in a hospital, according to the Cuban statement, which did not explain how or why the three men had been killed.
The Associated Press said the government identified the three attackers as Francisco Lamas Carón, 29; Luis Alberto Suárez Acosta, 22, and Yosvani Martínez Acosta, 27.
Prensa Latina said only that three men had killed each other and that they had ''terrible criminal records,'' including strong-arm robbery and cattle rustling.
''The objective of the delinquents was to travel to the United States,'' the Interior Ministry statement said.
Early Tuesday, a 36-foot boat owned by Geocuba, a government
agency that carries out geological explorations, was taken from the port
of Nuevitas, on the northern
coast of Camagüey province, Cuba said in a separate announcement.
Cuba said it sent planes and patrol boats to intercept the vessel but pulled away before it could halt the escape.
''It is not the policy of the government of Cuba to attack hijacked vessels with people aboard on the high seas,'' the Interior Ministry said, according to an Associated Press report from Havana.
The boat reached Bahamian waters near Cay Lobos and by nightfall had approached Andros Island, moving about six miles an hour in three to four foot seas, Bahamian government spokesman Al Dillette said.