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ICAO says Cuba violated aviation rules

By MARTIN STONE

MONTREAL, June 28 -- The International Civil Aviation Organization ruled Friday that Cuba violated civil aviation rules by shooting down two U.S.-registered civilian aircraft in February, and has referred the matter to the U.N. Security Council. The decision came in a resolution adopted by the Montreal-based U.N. body after three days of deliberations. The ICAO Council accepted an investigators' report, presented by its secretary-general, that Cuban MiG fighters fired upon two U.S.- registered Cessna single-engine aircraft in international airspace on Feb. 24, resulting in the deaths of four members of the Brothers to the Rescue, a Miami-based group. The ICAO resolution said Cuba violated international aviation conventions by failing to warn the aircraft, by firing upon them and by attacking them outside its territorial jurisdiction. The ICAO resolution now goes to the U.N. Security Council for further action, officials said. The secretary-general's report, based on a probe into the shooting by special investigators, established that one of the aircraft was downed 9 nautical miles, and the second 10 nautical miles, outside Cuban airspace. The investigators said the positions were established by witnesses aboard two ships at sea in the area at the time. The resolution stated: 'In executing the interception, the standard procedures for maneuvering and signals by the military interceptor aircraft, in accordance with ICAO provisions and as published in (Aeronautical Information Publication) Cuba, were not followed.' The attack took the lives of Pablo Morales, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Pena and Carlos A. Costa.

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Cuba contended that the four men had previously entered Cuban airspace repeatedly. The men were part of Brothers to the Rescue, a group of volunteer pilots who search for and assist refugees attempting to flee Cuba on rafts and boats. The group has, however, also admitted dropping leaflets over the island and, according to the ICAO, there was evidence indicating that some members sought to influence the Cuban political situation. The ICAO confirmed that the organization's pilots had made several overflights of Cuban airspace since 1994. The ICAO resolution stated that there were significant differences between the radio communications recordings provided to investigators by Cuba and the United States. The ICAO said significant differences were also found in radar data provided by the two countries. Following the secretary-general's report, the Cuban government issued a statement accusing the ICAO of being manipulated by the United States and saying U.S. aircraft had repeatedly violated Cuban airspace. 'These acts have occurred with absolute impunity as a result of the U.S. non-compliance of its obligations,' said the statement issued by the Cuban interest section at the Swiss Embassy in Washington. But U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena denounced the shootdown as 'nothing short of murder in the skies.' Friday's resolution exerted regret over the loss of life and condemned the use of weapons against civilian aircraft as being 'incompatible with elementary considerations of humanity... and the rules of customary international law.'

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