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US Accuses Cuba of Outrageous Behavior at UN Human Rights Meeting - 2004-04-16

The United States is accusing Cuba of "outrageous" behavior at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, where a Cuban delegate at the conference site in Geneva punched a representative of a U.S. group opposed to the Fidel Castro government. The U.N. panel narrowly approved a resolution Thursday condemning Cuba for its crackdown on dissent.

U.S. officials say the punch that floored the American activist in the lobby of the conference hall in Geneva, in full view of other delegates, was the most egregious incident in a pattern of harassment of U.S. diplomats and other supporters of Thursday's censure of the Cuban government.

The representative of the U.S. group, Frank Calzon of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba, was reported to have been briefly knocked unconscious by a blow delivered from behind by the Cuban representative.

The Cuban, who was not identified in news reports, was taken into custody by U.N. security guards, and a U.S. diplomat who witnessed the attack said he would seek to press criminal charges.

At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the behavior of the Cuban official was unacceptable, and said the United States would not drop the matter.

"We think that other members of the commission should focus on these issues, and that the international community should make clear the need for the Cuban delegations to respect the rules of procedure and proper order," he said.

The attack came after the 53-nation U.N. Commission voted by a 22-to-21 count with 10 abstentions Thursday in support of a resolution censuring Cuba for its arrest of 75 leading dissidents last year, and demanding that it permit democratic reforms.

Mr. Boucher said on Friday, Cuban delegates interrupted a speech on the assault incident by U.S. Ambassador Richard Williamson, who called the attack "outrageous."

Mr. Williamson said it was only one of a series of acts of intimidation, threats and aggression by members of the Cuban delegation and affiliate groups, aimed at the United States, its representatives and supporters.

Cuba has accused the U.N. commission of double standards, and said it would push for a resolution condemning the United States for its detention of Afghan and other Muslim militants at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.