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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 22:38 GMT
Castro 'does not oppose' US prison
US Marine walks past Cubans being held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, 1995
Guantanamo Bay: 'Dagger pointed at Cuba's heart'
Cuban President Fidel Castro has surprised visiting US senators by not opposing a US proposal to house suspected al-Qaeda members at an American base on the island.

Senators Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee said the Cuban leader had ratified a communique saying his government had not yet decided on its stance on the plan to build a secure prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base on Cuba's southeastern tip.

"Had there been an adverse reaction... you would have heard it loud and clear and instantaneously," said Mr Specter after a six and a half hour meeting with Mr Castro.

Cuban President Fidel Castro
This is the first time Mr Castro has not protested against non-military use
A BBC correspondent in Havana says this is the first time since coming to power in 1959 that Mr Castro has not protested against the use of the Guantanamo base, located in one of the country's best natural harbours, for non-military purposes.

Mr Castro also reiterated previous offers to work with the US to combat drug trafficking and expressed general willingness to co-operate in the war against terror.

"Cuba has vast intelligence sources, which could be of great aid," said Mr Specter.

In a recent statement, Mr Castro reiterated his claim to the American enclave on Cuban territory, but said he couldn't do anything to avoid it being used for the arrest and trial of Al-Qaeda suspects.

Bone of contention

The base, which the US has leased from Cuba since 1903, was used in the mid-1990s to house thousands of Cuban and Haitian refugees and was considered as a temporary shelter for Kosovo Albanians fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1999.

The American presence in Guantanamo Bay, on the east of the island, has been a constant bone of contention with the communist regime since the Cuban revolution in 1959.

Mr Castro has described the 116 sq km (45 sq miles) base as a "dagger pointed at Cuba's heart".

See also:

28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
27 Dec 01 | South Asia
Cuba base to house Afghan prisoners
21 Dec 01 | South Asia
US holds thousands in Afghanistan
01 Jan 99 | Americas
America's slice of Cuba
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Red Cross probes Taleban deaths
17 Apr 01 | Americas
Cuba commemorates Bay of Pigs
09 Apr 99 | Americas
Guantanamo refugee plan scrapped
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