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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"This appears to have been a one-man operation"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 January, 2000, 02:01 GMT
Row after Cuba leaflet pilot freed

Ly Tong is escorted from his plane

Cuba has accused the United States of tolerating illegal acts against it after a pilot who scattered anti-Castro leaflets over the island was freed.

I believe in God, justice and my mission against communism
Ly Tong, pilot
United States aviation regulators criticised "reckless" Vietnamese-born pilot Ly Tong who flew over Cuba dropping leaflets calling President Fidel Castro "an old dinosaur" and urging revolution.

But despite questioning Tong after the flight into Cuban air space, officials released him without charges, US Customs officials said.

In an editorial in the newspaper Trabajadores the communist Cuban Government said the US was "a violator of international law, tolerant of crime, a liar without morals that stimulates craziness and is incapable of controlling it".

The 51-year-old flier surrendered his two-week-old pilot's licence to the Federal Aviation Administration before his release. He said he had been planning the flight for months.

The US State Department said Tong had engaged in a "provocative and reckless action" which could have ended in disaster after two Cuban MiG fighter planes escorted his plane out of its airspace.

"Suffice to say this is a very lucky man to be alive right now," US customs spokesman Michael Sheehan added.

"We're glad the Cubans showed some restraint and luckily he was able to make it back to America safely."

Maverick reputation

Mr Tong, told Miami television station WSVN that he wanted the Cuban people to revolt against President Castro.

Tong: Maverick among Vietnamese community
"The most important thing is to try to encourage the people to rise up and overthrow the Havana pirate," he said, adding that he wanted to make similar flights over China and North Korea.

"How can I sacrifice my life for Cuban freedom?" he told the Miami Herald newspaper.

"I believe in God, justice and my mission against communism."

Mr Tong, who took US citizenship in 1988, has developed a following among sections of the Vietnamese-American community.

In 1975 the former fighter pilot was shot down during a combat mission over North Vietnam and imprisoned for five years before escaping.

The Cuban communists fight on in their mortal struggle, but the old dinosaur Fidel Castro and his followers insist in opposing the evolutionary trend of humanity ... God and Justice require all Cuban patriots to stand up and declare the death of the inhuman and tyrannical regime
Spanish language leaflet
He arrived in the US in 1984 but by the 1990s decided to take up new anti-communist activities.

In 1992 he hijacked an Air Vietnam airliner and forced the pilot to repeatedly fly over Ho Chi Minh City while he dropped thousands of leaflets calling for insurrection.

Mr Tong then strapped on a parachute and jumped from the plane, hoping to lead a subsequent revolution.

Instead, he landed in a swamp and was apprehended by soldiers and jailed for 20 years.

Vietnamese authorities released him in 1998 as part of an amnesty and Mr Tong has published his autobiography.

Planes shot down

Ly Tong's flight is the first such unauthorised entry into Cuban airspace since two light civilian aircraft from Miami were shot down north of Havana in 1996, killing four Cuban-Americans.

That incident led to a serious deterioration of relations between the two countries, with US President Bill Clinton signing the controversial Helms-Burton law tightening the US embargo against Cuba shortly afterwards.

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See also:
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Cuba ignores the party
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