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United States Expels 14 Cuban Diplomats - 2003-05-13

The United States is expelling 14 Cuban diplomats, on charges of alleged espionage. Seven of the diplomats were assigned to the Cuban mission to the United Nations.

The U.S. State Department says the 14 engaged in "activities deemed harmful to the United States" outside of their official capacities, diplomatic language often used for spying.

Seven of the diplomats work at the Cuban Special Interest Section in Washington, which handles relations between the two nations in place of an embassy staff. Cuba and the United States do not exchange ambassadors or maintain normal diplomatic relations.

The other seven are assigned to the Cuban mission to the United Nations. The United States says the activities of the diplomats constitute "an abuse of the privilege of residence." The names of the diplomats were not released.

United Nations spokesperson Fred Eckhard confirmed that Cubans from the U.N. mission were ordered out of the United States.

"Under the host country agreement, the host country, the United States, is expected to inform the United Nations of any such action. I am told that the U.N. legal counsel, Hans Corel, was, in fact, informed of that decision last night," explained Mr. Eckhard. "So under the established procedures, there is nothing more for the United Nations to do. It is a matter between Cuba and the United States."

The action is the latest in a series of increasingly tense actions and reactions between Cuba and the United States. Last month, the U.S. representative to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission walked out of a meeting after Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the panel. Shortly before Cuba's re-election to the Commission, 75 Cuban opposition leaders and independent journalists were given harsh prison sentences for allegedly working with the United States. Cuba also executed three people for a failed attempt to hijack and sail a ferry to the United States.

International human rights monitoring groups say Cuba has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere.

Two months ago, Cuba restricted the travel of U.S. diplomats, requiring government approval for any trips beyond a specific area of Havana. Some observers believe the action was taken to curb meetings between American diplomats on the island and dissidents. The United States responded by limiting the travel of Cuban diplomats in Washington and New York.

The two nations have been a loggerheads since Fidel Castro converted his 1959 revolution into a pro-communist government. Intermittent thaws in relations have consistently failed to endure. The United States accuses of the Cuban government of sponsoring terrorism. The Cuban government says the United States is encouraging its overthrow.

The Cuban U.N. mission declined to comment on the expulsion, saying Ambassador Bruno Rodriquez Parrilla was not available.