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La. Jail Standoff In Third Day

The siege by Cuban detainees at a Louisiana jail is now in its third day.

The inmates - who say they've lost patience with deportation proceedings - are apparently becoming more tense, setting deadlines for action.

During a telephone interview Tuesday morning with CBS radio station WBZ-AM in Boston, some of the Cubans threatened to kill their hostages within 72 hours. But it's not clear when the deadline is.

It's believed as many as four more Cubans have joined the original group of five.

The warden and two deputies are apparently being treated well. There are no reports of injuries or mistreatment.

A white flag appeared in a jail window for a few hours last night. But authorities, who continue to negotiate with inmates, say they don't know if there was any significance attached to the flag.

The five inmates took the warden and three deputies hostage Monday, reports Correspondent Karen Swenson of CBS affiliate WWL-TV, using makeshift knives after an exercise period on the roof.

Hostage negotiators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Louisiana State Police talked with the five inmates throughout the night, trying to free Warden Todd Louviere and Deputies Jolie Sonnier and Brandon Boudreaux, said St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Capt. Audrey Thibodeaux.

The inmates released the third deputy in exchange for some local television publicity.

"No one has been injured since the takeover began and one hostage, Mac Wiltz, was freed unharmed about 10 p.m.," Thibodeaux said.

More prisoners were evacuated Tuesday morning from the jail. Sheriff Charles Fuselier says 49 inmates were transferred to other correctional facilities in the area for holding. That process took place as negotiators try to talk the Cubans into letting their hostages go.

In some video taken of the Cubans, ringleader Jonne Ponce is seen holding a knife. The deputies are shackled.

The inmates reportedly said they are upset because they have been in custody for years and want to leave the U.S. for any other country.

Dee Stanley, News Director for CBS Affiliate KLFY-TV in Lafayette, La., who has been a part of the negotiations inside the jail, told CBS Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel that authorities are willing to negotiate as long as nobody is hurt.

Stanley speaks Spanish and was asked to intervene when the inmates requested to see someone from television.

Stanley said the inmates told him that "they have long since paid their debt for some criminal wrongdoing."

The detainees were housed at the St. Martin Parish jail for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which contracts with local facilities to detain individuals prior to INS action, such as deportation hearings.

It was not known if the Cubans were illegal immigrants or had committed crimes while on U.S. soil.

Fuselier identified the Cubans as Ponce, Gerado Santana of Miami, Elisalte Ora of Sacramento, Calif., Juan Miranda, and Roberto Grana Villar.

Mike Gilhooly, an INS spokesman, said in a telephone interview that the detainees were among 72 prisoners being held in the jail for the INS. Sixty of them are Cuban, he said.

"In the case of many Cubans, we can't remove them to their country because we don't have agreements with the Cuban government," Gilhooly said.

Fuselier said the federal government pays $45 a day for the parish to keep the INS detainees.

Several Louisiana jails hold Cubans for federal immigration officials, pending deportation or other action. Gilhooly described it as an intergovernmental contract typical of those the federal government has with county jails around the nation.

St. Martinville is about 10 miles southeast of Lafayette in south-central Louisiana. It is also about 50 miles from Oakdale, where a federal deportation center was burned down by 1,000 rioting Cuban inmates in November 1987. Twenty-eight employees were taken hostage and held for eight days before all were released unharmed in that incident.