ATLANTA — Rebellious Cuban inmates at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary released one of their 90 hostages Tuesday night, hours after a "very businesslike" session between federal negotiators and inmate leaders had produced "apparently substantial agreement" on a number of key issues, officials said.
Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten declined to discuss any details of the agreement and cautioned that a settlement of the nine-day-old siege did not appear to be imminent. It remains to be seen, he said, whether the rest of the inmates will accept the terms of the issues on which accord has been reached.
Korten said that senior corrections officer Abdul-Saboor Rushdan, 36, was released at 9:50 p.m. and was immediately taken away for a medical examination. "I watched him walk out," Korten said. "He was one very, very happy man. He looked tired, but he looked good."
Korten said that Rushdan is married with two children and has been employed at the penitentiary since July, 1984. Rushdan was expected to be reunited with his family after his medical tests.
Rushdan's release came after a broadcast appeal Tuesday from ACLU attorney Gary Leshaw, who appeared on a local radio show with a colleague, Carla Dudeck. Leshaw asked the Cuban prisoners to wish happy birthday to Dudeck and release some of the hostages.
Leshaw has been providing legal advice for negotiators for the Cuban detainees although he is not directly involved in negotiations to end the prison uprising, Korten said.
Dudeck, coordinator for the suburban Atlanta-based Coalition to Support Cuban Detainees, turned 29 Tuesday.
At 9 p.m., a crowd of inmates on the roof of a building at the 85-year-old prison sang birthday greetings to Dudeck. Later, one of them announced through a bullhorn that a hostage of her choice would be released.
Dudeck, who was standing across the street from the prison at the time amid a crush of spectators and reporters, soon was summoned by police to come to the prison gate.
After a few minutes, she was escorted by police back across the street to a liquor store, where she attempted to phone the prison.
But, she told reporters: "I didn't speak to anybody. Nobody ever got on the phone." She was then escorted back to the prison gate.
Announced From Roof
While she was phoning inside the liquor store, however, an inmate on the building roof announced that Rushdan was the hostage who would be released.
Justice Department officials were pleased by Rushdan's release--the first since early last Sunday, when four hostages were freed.
"We would like any and all of the hostages released for whatever reasons the detainees inside may find appropriate," Korten said.
Earlier in the day, Korten told reporters that the negotiating session between federal officials and leaders of the rebellious inmates had produced apparent agreement on a number of issues.
Unmarked by 'Grandstanding'
He described the one-hour negotiating session as encouraging, noting that it was unmarked by the "grandstanding" and "role-playing" on the part of inmate representatives that have disrupted previous talks.
"This was a useful negotiating session," Korten told reporters at an afternoon briefing across the street from the prison. "But the proof of it will come when . . . we talk with them again later on and find whether there's been some substantial progress within the general detainee population inside.
"I don't want to unduly raise anyone's hopes," he added. "What we had this afternoon was encouraging, but please, please, don't go running off and make this out to be more than it is. It's encouraging--and nothing more for the moment."
He noted that several thorny issues still remain to be worked out and that there was no guarantee negotiators would be successful in resolving them.
"Out at Oakdale," he said, referring to the Louisiana detention facility where a similar Cuban inmate mutiny was quelled Sunday, "they felt they had an agreement at one point, and it was three or four more days before people came out. There is no way to tell in something like that until they actually start walking out."
Four Cubans in Talks
Korten said that four Cuban leaders were involved in the Atlanta prison negotiating session, which began about 12:30 p.m. None of the Cubans, he added, are among the "serious dissenters" whom federal officials have blamed for impeding progress in resolving the prison crisis.
Korten said that negotiators for both sides agreed to hold another round of talks later Tuesday after the inmate leaders have had time to take the newest proposals back to the rest of the detainees.
Earlier in the day, federal officials said they were prepared to have Roman Catholic Bishop Agustin Roman lend a hand in ending the revolt at the Atlanta prison--but only if the inmate leadership is unified and speaks with a single voice.
Roman, 58, a Cuban-born auxiliary bishop in the Miami archdiocese, played a key role in ringing down the curtain on the uprising at the federal detention center in Oakdale.