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Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2006, 01:09 GMT
Castro not dying, US envoys told
Fidel Castro in hospital bed
Fidel Castro turned 80 in August
Cuban officials have told visiting US lawmakers that Cuba's ailing leader, Fidel Castro, does not have cancer or any other terminal illness.

The US delegation chief said he was told Mr Castro would be back, although no details about his health were given.

The veteran leader handed over control to his brother Raul in July, when he underwent urgent intestinal surgery.

The US group, the largest of its kind to visit the island since the 1959 revolution, was seeking dialogue.

But Jeff Flake, a Republican congressman heading the delegation, said Cuban officials indicated there would be no political and economic changes.

The group arrived on Friday and met with Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, Parliamentary Speaker Ricardo Alarcon and Basic Industries Minister Yadira Garcia.

They no longer expected to meet acting President Raul Castro before leaving on Sunday.

'No changes'

President Castro, 80, has not been seen in public for four months, and few details have emerged on his condition.

Mr Flake said: "All the officials have told us that his illness is not cancer, nor is it terminal, and he will be back".

The envoy added that he had hoped to meet with Raul Castro as part of his fifth trip to the island, but said that would not now happen.

"It seems that the Cuban government may not be ready to say that the new era has begun, and perhaps that meeting would suggest that," he noted.

The US broke official ties with Cuba following Mr Castro's rise to power in 1959 and has had an economic embargo in place against the island since 1960.

Mr Flake said that he had expected officials to be less guarded about possible economic and political changes.

"In fact, it was very much the opposite," he said: "that there will be no changes."

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