US claims to have tapes of Cuban pilots during attack


THE United States yesterday produced transcripts from Cuban MiG pilots that it said showed the pilots knew they had shot down two unarmed Miami based light aircraft on Saturday.

Cuba's Foreign Minister Mr Roberto Robaina Gonzalez, called the transcripts "a manipulated and incomplete version".

After exchanges between the pilots and Cuba's ground control, the US transcript quotes one of the Cuban MiG pilots as saying "The target is in sight. The target is in sight. It's a small aircraft, a small aircraft. It is white and blue."

"Authorised to destroy", ground control answered.

"We gave him balls, we took out his balls. This one won't mess around anymore", the MiG pilot said after firing.

Ms Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the United Nations, released the transcript at a news conference, hours after the Security Council deplored Cuba's downing of the two aircraft. Four people are presumed dead.

She said she was struck by the delight of Cuban MiG pilots "in committing cold blooded murder and their use of common vulgarity to describe shooting down unarmed civilians. Frankly, this is not conjones (testicles in Spanish). This is cowardice."

She said the transcript without saying how it was obtained showed the MiG pilots knew the planes were "small, white and blue Cessnas, that they were civilian and they posed no threat".

The transcript also showed that there was plenty of time for the MiG pilots to warn the pilots of the light aircraft. Cuba contends that the pilots were in its air space and part of a series of deliberate provocations.

Cuba, stung by the Security Council condemnation, said yesterday the council was controlled by the US and called for reforms to make the UN more democratic.

It added "Cuba will not discuss with the council or experts of any organisation our right and duty to protect the sovereignty of our country."

But Havana accepted and did not fear the council request that the International Civil Aviation Organisation investigate Saturday's incident, which Cuba has been insisting took place in Cuban air space which had been violated by the planes.

The United States said it happened in international waters north of Havana.

The Cuban statement said the council vote "reveals the urgent need to work for the democratisation of the UN and to find procedures that will make its Security Council more representative and impartial".

Mr Robaina requested a session of the 185 member General Assembly to speak to the "United Nations and the world in general on what the Security Council could not wait for".

The UN statement condemning Cuba was considerably milder than the United States had wanted. The original US drafted text asked the council to "condemn" the attack as an "unlawful use of force", called on Cuba to provide compensation for the families of those killed and raised the possibility of further measures at some future date.

Most diplomats believe the chance of international sanctions are slim, however.

President Boris Yeltsin said in Moscow yesterday that the US should not overreact.

"I regret this incident," he said. "But I think the Security Council was right in letting, in a civilised manner, the United States understand that it cannot declare war over every such incident."