December 19, 1999

Deal with hostage-takers allows them to return to Cuba

                  From staff and wire reports

                  WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Five Cuban detainees now in federal custody
                  will be returned to Cuba as part of a deal with authorities to end their
                  hostage standoff in Louisiana, according to U.S. State Department officials.

                  "We're gratified that the situation has been resolved in a peaceful manner,"
                  said a State Department official.

                  "The detainees turned themselves in without harming hostages. And in
                  accordance with their request, we contacted the government of Cuba which
                  has agreed to take these individuals back," the official said.

                  Announcement follows six-day standoff

                   The Cubans and another detainee had been holed up inside a jail in St. Martinville,
                    Louisiana, since Monday. They were holding seven hostages including the
                    warden, a jail guard and five female inmates. The hostage-takers surrendered
                    late Saturday night and released their captives unharmed.

                  The Cubans were being held indefinitely in a state of legal limbo. The U.S.
                  government wouldn't release them because it considered them subject to
                  deportation. But there is no agreement between the United States and Cuba
                  to enable them to be sent back.

                  It was the agreement to return the detainees to Cuba that apparently
                  prompted a peaceful end to the standoff.

                  Concern that deal will prompt similar actions

                  "They surrendered because they are going to Cuba," said Mercedes Villar,
                  who had been credited by FBI spokesman Charles Mathews with persuading
                  her son, Roberto Villar-Gana, and the others to give up.

                  Ruby Feria, director of Mothers for Freedom, a Cuban support group in Miami,
                  was asked if the agreement could encourage other inmates to take hostages.

                  "I think they realize that creating such a problem again will only bring criminal
                  charges and worsen their situation," she said.