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The BBC's Steve Reilly
"Observers suggest the verdict will only serve to infuriate the Cubans"
 real 56k

Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 20:53 GMT 21:53 UK
US lets Cuban crash survivors stay
Survivor carried on a stretcher
Cuba says the survivors should be punished
US immigration officials say a group of Cubans picked up in the Florida Straits two days ago after their plane crashed will be allowed to stay in the United States.

Nine people survived the crash, but one of those on board the Russian-built plane died when it ditched close to a passing freighter, 80km (50 miles) west of Cuba.

A spokeswoman for the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service said the Cubans would be allowed to stay in the US because federal investigators had found no proof of a crime.

Earlier the Cuban Government had asked for them to be repatriated.

Migration talks

The BBC's correspondent in Miami, Iain Haddow, says the decision is likely to infuriate Havana just as Cuba and the United States begin a two-day round of talks on migration in New York.

Relatives
Relatives came to the hospital hoping to make contact
Under what is known as the "wet feet, dry feet" policy, Cubans are allowed to apply for residence if they reach US soil, while would-be emigrants who are picked up at sea are returned to Cuba.

The nine survivors, including three children and a seriously injured man, were found clinging to debris in the ocean. They were picked up by the freighter.

A couple are being treated in a Florida hospital for their injuries.

Hijack claim

Shortly after their plane took off from Cuba the authorities in Havana told their Miami counterparts that the plane had been hijacked.

The Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma said the group should be punished to deter others.

The case has evoked memories of Elian Gonzalez, the six-year-old shipwrecked boy who became the centre of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Havana and the Cuban exile community in Florida.

Every year hundreds of Cubans try to reach the United States.

Cuban officials say the US is encouraging the dangerous crossing by offering Cubans more favourable treatment than other Latin American nationals.

The 1966 Law of Cuban Adjustment offers Cuban illegal immigrants residence and work privileges in the US.

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | Americas
New tension over Cuban immigrants
29 Jun 00 | Americas
Elian's story: Special report
21 Jul 00 | Americas
US moves to lift Cuba sanctions
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