Subject: East Timor stands between Cuba and defecting doctors

Canberra Times (Australia)

January 1, 2008 Tuesday

Final Edition

East Timor stands between Cuba and defecting doctors

Jill Jolliffe; in Dili

East Timor and Cuba are locked in a diplomatic face-off over the defection of Cuban doctors to the United States.

Three doctors have been holed up in a safe house in the East Timorese capital for two months after being granted political asylum by the US embassy, but they have been unable to obtain exit documents from the Timorese Government.

Cuban ambassador Ramon Hernandes Vasquez is demanding that the East Timorese Government deport a fourth, Oriole Rodriguez Caceres, back to Cuba, a demand refused by East Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa.

There are about 300 Cuban doctors working in East Timor, and 700 East Timorese youths studying medicine in Cuba under a bilateral accord signed with the previous Fretilin government of Mari Alkatiri in late 2005.

In two meetings with the Cuban ambassador just before Christmas, Mr da Costa said he told him the Timorese Government would not deport Dr Caceres, the seventh Cuban doctor to defect since the scheme began in late 2005. In August, another defector transited through Australia on American travel documents, and there is an unconfirmed report Cuba has served a protest on Australia.

Contacted by The Canberra Times, the Cuban ambassador refused to comment on the issue, saying it was an "internal affair of the Timorese Government". He described as a "total lie" defectors' accusations that their passports were taken from them and held by Cuban authorities, and that their movements and contacts within Timor were tightly controlled.

East Timor is considering resolving the impasse by approaching a third country to accept the doctors, from which they could later travel to America if they wished.


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