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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 01:02 GMT


World: Americas

'Forgive me,' pleads Cuba bomber

Mr Cruz Leon (left): Prosecution demands death penalty

A Salvadorian man who has confessed to string of bombings aimed to hurt Cuba's tourism industry has gone on trial, charged with terrorism.

Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon told the court his motive for the 1997 bombings, which killed one Italian tourist and injured 11 others, was financial, not political.


The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana: "Cuban Government making the most of this case"
In an emotional 10-minute address, the 27-year-old former security guard asked for forgiveness.

He said: "I want to make public my absolute repentance and repulsion for these acts.

"God knows I never wanted that death ... which torments me terribly."

Correspondents say he looked tense and apologised to the panel of five judges for the "nervousness I am feeling".

The prosecution has asked for Mr Cruz Leon to be sentenced to death by firing squad.

The Salvadorian president has called for leniency.

Miami links denied

The Cuban government blames exiles in Miami for masterminding and funding the bombings, but Mr Cruz Leon denied any links to anti-Castro activists in the United States

He said he had been desperate for cash and had allowed himself to be manipulated by another Salvadoran on whose orders he acted.

Under questioning, he told how he was recruited in El Salvador and after just a day's training was sent off to Cuba with some plastic explosives hidden in a pair of boots.

He said he did not know the targets were in Cuba until a few days before he travelled there to plant the explosives.

"I was in a very critical financial situation caused by a lot of spending on my credit cards," Mr Cruz Leon said. "I have never had anything against the Cuban revolution."

Mr Cruz Leon confessed to planting six bombs between July and September 1997 in hotels and a restaurant frequented by foreign tourists.

In a confession televised 10 days after his arrest, the Salvadorian stated the goal of the bombings was to "incite panic among tourists".

'Terrorist campaign' against Cuba

The BBC Havana Correspondent Tom Gibb says the Cuban Government is making the most of the case to portray Cuba as the victim of a terrorist campaign planned and funded out of Miami with the complicity of the US government.

They strongly deny any Cubans were involved in the campaign.

The access given to foreign journalists and diplomats is in marked contrast to the trial of four leading dissidents last week which was behind closed doors.

The government has reacted very defensively to calls from around the world for the dissidents' release, portraying these as part of a US-orchestrated campaign to defame the country.



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