U.N. branch rejects Cuba's bid to weaken criticism of downings

Herald Staff Writer

MONTREAL -- The United Nations' civil aviation branch Thursday condemned Cuba's shoot-down of two Miami-based airplanes and pushed aside Havana's attempts to delay or dilute the criticism.

But past violations of Cuban airspace by Brothers to the Rescue apparently bothered members of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) enough to spare Havana even worse admonitions for the Feb. 24 downings.
``No one likes leaflets dropped on their heads,'' said an ICAO representative from an African country.

ICAO's consensus adoption of a staff investigation of the downings and a one-page resolution sends the issue to the U.N. Security Council, where U.S. officials are preparing to seek sanctions against Cuba.

The 33-nation ICAO ruling council handed Cuba a number of defeats during two days of closed-door arguments over the investigators' report, which concluded that Cuba had shot down the two planes in international airspace and not in Cuban airspace as Havana claimed.

Complaints brushed aside

It swatted aside Cuban efforts to dispute the report as sloppy or fabricated; to delay a vote by asking the investigators to go back and fill in some gaps; to attach Havana's comments to significant portions of the report; and finally to attach the entire transcript of ICAO's discussions to the report when it is sent to New York.

``The council has no reservation whatsoever regarding the manner in which the investigation was carried out and the report was written,'' said council president Assad Kotaite of Lebanon.

In its wrap-up resolution, the council also ``reaffirmed its condemnation of the use of weapons against aircraft in flight as being incompatible with the elementary rules of humanity.''

``We see today's action by the ICAO council as a solid victory for all civilized people,'' a smiling U.S. Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña told reporters after the session.

But it was clear that members of the council, a largely technical body ill at ease with politics, were concerned enough by past Brothers violations of Cuban airspace to take the edge off the resolution.

Swipes at Washington

After the 1983 downing of a South Korean airliner by a Soviet MiG, ICAO condemned Moscow directly for the use of force and clearly branded the incident ``a violation of international law.''

ICAO's resolution Thursday took indirect swipes at Washington and Brothers, saying that civilian aircraft must be used for civilian purposes -- a reference to rafter rescue flights -- and that governments must ensure that airplanes from their jurisdiction do not violate another nation's territory.

But U.S. officials pronounced themselves happy with the result, saying the council had stood by the investigators' report and rejected Cuban attempts to delay it.

``Cuba wanted time to prepare the ground in the Security Council, but now they are going to have to go there cold, without an opportunity to lobby effectively for their cause,'' said a Latin American representative.

Cuban representative Ricardo Alarcon said he would fly from Montreal to New York to begin preparing for the Security Council meeting, where U.S. envoys are expected to seek sanctions against Cuba.

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