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Hostage Standoff Ends

The Cuban inmates who held a jail warden and six others hostage for almost a week surrendered Saturday night, after an apparent agreement was reached to send the inmates to Cuba.

"I don't think we could ask for a better Christmas present that what happened today with the families getting their loved ones back," said Sheriff Charles Fuselier.

Charles Mathews, head of the New Orleans FBI office, announced at a news conference that the hostages had been freed and appeared unharmed, but refused to confirm the agreement. An Immigration and Naturalization Service spokeswoman who was at the media briefing did not speak. Mathews said he and the sheriff were the only spokesmen on the case.

The FBI did, however, credit Mercedes Villar, mother of one of the hostage-takers, And0a chaplain with being instrumental in helping to resolve the six-day standoff that began Monday.

"They surrendered because they are going to Cuba," said Villar, who was outside the prison as the warden was brought out on a stretcher.

According to her, Fidel Castro had agreed to take the five Cubans and one Bahamian even though Cuba has no agreement with the United States for such a transfer.

Villar's account was backed by Maggie Garcia, who said she was a girlfriend of one of the hostage-takers.

"They put it in writing and they're going to Cuba," Garcia said.

The inmates had been holding Warden Todd Louvierre, a female guard and five female inmates at knifepoint at the St. Martin Parish jail. The warden and guard were taken to a hospital for observation and were in good condition. There was no word on the female inmates.

The uprising began when the Cuban inmates, being held for deportation by the INS, 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.

Two Cuban hostage-takers surrendered late Thursday and the five female inmates were taken hostage.

The Cubans were being held indefinitely in a state of legal limbo. The U.S. government wouldn't release them because it considers them subject to deportation. Officials did not say why the Bahamian was still being held.

The Cuban inmates, who had fled their homeland, had demanded to be released and sent to another country. The FBI refused to say where they were taken after they surrendered.

By Natalie Gott
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed