;HAVANA (CWN) - The Communist Cuban government said on Thursday that it had acceded to Pope John Paul's request to free certain prisoners held in Cuban jails, but it was unclear whether political prisoners on the papal list were among those given their freedom.

      Cuban Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez said 299 prisoners, including 70 political detainees, had been released in response to an appeal by the Holy Father last month during his visit to the country, but refused to confirm whether certain high-profile detainees -- Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne, Rene Gomez and Marta Beatriz Roque, who have been in custody, without being formally charged, since last July 16 -- had been freed. He said the 299 were all those included in an official pardon approved by the ruling Council of State on February 12.

      Before the Foreign Ministry announcement, human rights groups had only been able to confirm that 136 prisoners, 64 of them political detainees, had been released as of last Saturday. Gonzalez said all 299 had been freed by Saturday and that the list had been sent to the Vatican. Of the total number released, he said 75 had been Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano list handed over during the January 21-25 visit to Cuba. The remaining 224 were prisoners being freed for humanitarian reasons, such as advanced age or sickness.

      Of the Vatican's list of 302 names, 106 had already been released prior to the papal visit and at least 25 more names were either repeated, unclear, or inaccurate, Gonzalez said. He said 60 or 70 would not be released because they had been convicted of serious crimes such as murder, spying, or acts which threatened the country.

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February 23, 1998 volume 9, no. 38          DAILY CATHOLIC