US and Cuba to discuss refugees

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The Independent Online
THE US hopes talks with Cuba to be held this week will defuse the boat people crisis, but Washington is not prepared to discuss the embargo of the island or other issues.

In a sign that Fidel Castro is prepared to reduce the flow of refugees, the Cuban President yesterday ordered the security forces to stop children and teenagers from leaving the country on board rafts.

The Communist Party newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, said yesterday the decree was to stop youths from making the dangerous crossing. Bad weather reduced the departure of Cubans to 130 on Saturday, compared to 3,000 a day earlier. The US wants to see if talks will lead Mr Castro to stop people fleeing.

'We are prepared to discuss legal migration if they are prepared to discuss illegal migration,' the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said yesterday. 'If he moves toward democracy in a tangible, significant way, we'll respond in a carefully calibrated way.' He said the US sought peaceful, democratic change.

'Whether that involves Mr Castro or not is really up to him. If there was a free election and he ran, I imagine the people of Cuba might be rather hesitant to vote for him,' Mr Christopher said. But, he added, it was not US policy to seek the removal of 'any individual person'.

The timing of the talks is uncertain. Cuban officials took offence after President Bill Clinton leaked details of the proposed discussions. Cuba believes the solution to the crisis lies in wide ranging talks and argues the economic squeeze on Cuba is making people desperate to emigrate by any means.

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