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Deal to Release Hostages May Be Near in Louisiana

November 29, 1987|From Associated Press

Federal officials and negotiators for Cuban prisoners holding 26 hostages met Friday at a Louisiana detention center amid signs that the hostages may be freed soon, but a standstill continued at the Atlanta federal penitentiary, where 94 people were being held.

"We appear to be far closer to a resolution with this group (in Louisiana) than we were yesterday," Michael Quinlan, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, told reporters in Washington Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, authorities turned aside an offer by Miami's Cuba-born mayor, Xavier Suarez to exchange himself for the hostages. "It doesn't fit with what we're trying to do," said FBI Special Agent Joe Hardy.

"The negotiators . . . are saying to the detainees, 'Please, you're having quite an effect on your own families and on the hostage families. You can't be helping your own situation by prolonging this. Do what it takes to negotiate, or the unspoken postscript to that is surrender,' " said Justice Department spokesman Tom Stewart.

In Louisiana, seven Cubans, apparently representatives of about 1,000 inmates who seized control Saturday night, met with federal negotiators. There was a second meeting later in the afternoon.

"These negotiations are largely now in the nature of clarifications. And we consider things are moving along in a satisfactory fashion," said Mark Sheehan, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman in Louisiana.

One Louisiana hostage was stabbed Friday by an inmate and was hospitalized in fair condition.

Four inmate representatives entered the administration building at the Federal Detention Center in Oakdale, La., early Friday afternoon to resume discussions that ended amicably Thursday. They left about half an hour later, and there was no word on what happened inside.

A group of Cubans sang and clapped after the negotiators were escorted into the building.

In a step indicating a possible hostage release, television crews were allowed to set up cameras inside and outside the detention center shortly before noon Friday, with one camera set up in a negotiation room inside the administration building and three more outside on a route that hostages could be brought out.

Thursday night, a Cuban inmate and a federal official in Oakdale shook hands before a television camera and spoke of signing a hostage-release agreement Friday.

"We need to have . . . all four (Cuban negotiators) to sign," the unidentified official said on a WBRZ-TV videotape released to news organizations. "That's when the other 27 will be released."

Hostage Released

One of the hostages taken when the 950 Cubans seized the compound in a riot Saturday was released Thursday night.

At a news briefing earlier Friday, Sheehan refused to confirm that an agreement had been reached.

As to how to interpret the videotape, he said, "The handshake was an indication of the tone of the negotiations."

One of the hostages, a mental health counselor, was stabbed Friday by a Cuban from the mental health unit in what officials said was an unprovoked attack. He was carried to the facility's front gate by other Cubans and was taken to the hospital with a deep cut in his head and left shoulder. The inmate was turned over to authorities by other Cubans, federal officials said.

Agreement Announced

The Cuban inmates in Georgia and Louisiana rioted after a U.S.-Cuban agreement was announced last Friday that could result in their being returned to the homeland they fled in 1980.

Authorities have said that although a desire to remain in the United States is the central demand, the Cubans have disagreed among themselves over whether to also hold out for freedom and clemency.

In Atlanta, Stewart said no formal talks were scheduled, but inmates and federal negotiators spoke occasionally by telephone Friday.

The Atlanta talks broke off after about 1,100 rebellious Cuban prisoners held a mass meeting and voted against a proposal to free 50 hostages.

Officials Hopeful

Davis said authorities at the 85-year-old penitentiary remain hopeful because of signs the inmates are more unified.

"I think you can see that by talking about a majority saying 'no' (to the hostage release) that some type of democratic apparatus is in effect," Davis said.

Mayor Suarez and 10 others flew to Atlanta this morning "to calm the situation," said one member of the group, state Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Suarez conceded that no one expects federal authorities to accept the offer. The group also planned to offer support and encouragement to the Cuban prisoners and to the prisoners' relatives waiting outside.

"It's basically a gesture," Suarez said. "We just want to show that the exile community is united behind a peaceful solution to the crisis.

94 Yellow Ribbons

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