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Cuban Inmates Headed Home

The State Department says the Cuban detainees who surrendered peacefully after holding hostages at a jail for nearly a week will be sent back to Cuba.

Five Cubans and one Bahamian gave up late Saturday at the St. Martin Parish jail, freeing the warden, a female guard and five female inmates. The standoff began Dec. 13 by inmates who demanded to be released from the south-central Louisiana jail and sent to another country.

"We're gratified that the situation has been resolved in a peaceful manner," the State Department said in a statement Sunday. "The detainees turned themselves in without harming hostages and in accordance with their request, we contacted the government of Cuba which has agreed to take these individuals back."

Cuba's Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond today to a request for comment on the repatriation of the Cuban hostage-takers. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, the American diplomatic mission to Cuba, declined to comment.

The inmates were in federal custody Sunday while details for their return were being worked out. Two other Cuban detainees had surrendered Thursday. It was unclear how many inmates would be going to Cuba.

The New York Times reported in Monday's editions that all seven Cubans would be returned to Cuba. The newspaper said officials were unclear on the exact timing of the deportations, but expected them to take place in the next few days.

"We believe this resolution is in the best interest of the United States and is consistent with our long-standing practice of removing deportable aliens to their country of origin," the State Department statement said.

The Cubans were being held indefinitely in a state of legal limbo. Before the surrender, the U.S. government wouldn't release them because it considered them subject to deportation and the Cuban government would not take them back.

The uprising began Monday when the inmates armed themselves with homemade knives and took the warden and three guards hostage while being escorted to an exercise area. One guard was released after about six hours. A second was released Thursday night.

The mother of one of the Cubans said she was assured Saturday that a deal had been reached.

"They surrendered because they are going to Cuba," said Mercedes Villar, who had been credited by FBI spokesman Charles Mathews with persuading her son, Roberto Villar-Gana, and the others to give up.

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