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Venezuela demands US hand over Cuban "terrorist"

Written by: Staff

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 23 (Reuters) Venezuela's government has accused US immigration authorities of protecting a Cuban exile who Caracas wants extradited to face trial for a 1976 plane bombing that killed 73 people.

The US Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency ruled yesterday that Luis Posada Carriles, who was detained by U.S. authorities last May after illegally slipping into the country from Mexico, would stay in custody.

Caracas, which has strained relations with Washington under leftist President Hugo Chavez, rejected this an attempt by the United States to avoid its request for extradition of Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan and former CIA operative.

Caracas and Havana charge Posada masterminded the attack on a Cuban airliner as it took off from Barbados and view him as a terrorist. The two countries are ideological allies and accuse the United States of using double standards in its treatment of Posada, given Washington's declared war on terrorism.

''We again call on the White House to honor its international treaty obligations and either extradite or prosecute Luis Posada Carriles for 73 counts of first degree murder,'' the Venezuelan embassy in Washington said in a statement dated yesterday.

A US judge ruled in September that Posada could face torture in Cuba or Venezuela and should not be deported to those countries.

The case has tested already tense relations between the United States and Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter and a top supplier to the US market.

Posada is being held in El Paso, Texas. Immigration authorities said in a statement that yesterday's ruling followed a routine review, and held out the possibility that he could eventually be deported to a third country, not Cuba or Venezuela.

Posada denies involvement in the Barbados bombing, but admits working against Cuban President Fidel Castro. A former CIA collaborator, he escaped from Venezuelan prison in 1985 awaiting retrial for the bombing. A military court initially acquitted him in the 1980s.

Reuters DH VP0044

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