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Subject: Three men executed for hijacking ferry in attempt to reach the U.S.

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Date Posted: April 13, 2003 3:42:50 EDT

After a swift and secret trial, Cuban authorities executed three men who had hijacked a ferry in a failed attempt to reach the United States.

Four other men who used a gun and knives to help commandeer the boat were given life sentences, a government statement said.

The three faced a firing squad at dawn on Friday after being convicted of "very grave acts of terrorism". The executions came at the end of a week in which nearly 78 dissidents received jail terms as high as 28 years for conspiring with American diplomats against the Government.

Human rights advocates, diplomats and American legislators condemned the executions as excessively harsh, and questioned the motivation of the Cuban Government.

"It just goes too far. There is no rational, sensible explanation," said Wayne Smith, formerly the top US diplomat in Havana.

The executions were believed to be the first in two years, said Curt Goering, of Amnesty, USA.

"These executions, combined with the harsh sentences handed down last week to a number of recently arrested dissidents, is contributing to a climate of repression that hasn't existed in Cuba since the 1960s," he said.

The executions came one day after authorities said they had foiled a hijacking attempt on the Isle of Youth. The Communist Party newspaper, Granma, reported that several men who had assaulted a soldier and stolen his rifle were arrested on Thursday night near the airport.

A recent string of hijackings - officials say there have been seven in the past seven months - has angered Cuban officials, who feel that American policy not only encourages immigration but is lenient on those who use force in getting to America. The US says it will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone involved in a hijacking.

The jailing of dissidents and execution of the ferry hijackers have stalled what had been an increasingly popular drive in the US Congress to ease trade and travel restrictions against the island.

Last week Congress voted 414-0 for a resolution demanding the release of the 78 dissidents.

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