February 26, 1996
Web posted at: 12:45 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States asked the United Nations Security Council Sunday to condemn Cuba for shooting down two small unarmed aircraft piloted by members of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue.
U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright also asked for an international investigation of the incident that occurred Saturday in waters off Cuba.
"Our position is that (the planes) were in international airspace and the Cubans knew it," Albright said after the 90- minute meeting. (357K AIFF sound or 357K WAV sound)
While the Council will not make any decisions until after its members consult with their governments, some of the ambassadors were clearly uncomfortable with the shoot downs.
German Ambassador Antonio Eitel said that "the shooting down of an unarmed civil aircraft ... is indeed a threat to international order," and Chilean Ambassador Juan Somavia said the action was "condemnable whether this act occurred within or outside the Cuban airspace."
Cuban officials insisted Sunday that the U.S. planes were warned not to cross into Cuban airspace but did so anyway.
"We had the right and the duty to defend Cuban sovereignty and Cuban independence and that's what we did," said Jose Ponce, a spokesman for the Cuban Interest Section in Washington. (391K AIFF sound or 391K WAV sound)
And indeed, U.S. officials admitted Sunday that at least one Brothers to the Rescue plane did violate Cuban airspace -- but that plane was a third Cessna that returned safely to Miami after the other two were shot down by the Cuban MiG-29 aircraft.
Leaders of Brothers to the Rescue said that the three planes all identified themselves to the Cubans, and that they did not fly into Cuban airspace. (306K AIFF sound or 306K WAV sound) Jose Basulto, pilot of the third plane, has turned over a tape recording of the radio conversations between the Cessnas and Cuban authorities.
U.S. officials were still considering their response to the attack Sunday night. Sources said that possible actions include banning air travel and money transfers from the U.S. to Cuba, and toughening the trade embargo already in place.
More than 100 Anti-Castro demonstrators rallied outside the Cuban Mission to the U.N. Sunday. Thirteen were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, but the other protesters continued to chant and shake their fists in the air.
U.S. Coast Guard ships have spotted two oil slicks near the area where the planes were last seen, but had found no signs of survivors by late Sunday night. The searchers used information from several witnesses from a cruise ship sailing toward Miami just a few miles from the site.
Many of those passengers on the Majesty of the Seas said anyone on board the planes had no chance of survival.
One of the ship's passengers, Barbara LaMonica, said that she heard the explosions and grabbed her video camera, videotaping black smoke billowing off the sea for several minutes.
The cruise ship continued to Miami because it received no distress calls or advisories from officials in the area. Passengers on board the ship said they and the crew initially thought the incident was a military exercise.
Brothers to the Rescue regularly flies missions over the waters between Florida and Cuba searching for refugees on rafts. Basulto, the pilot of the third Cessna, was charged by U.S. authorities last summer with flying in Cuban airspace without permission.
Brothers to the Rescue said Sunday that it was temporarily suspending its flight operations.
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