Cuban pilots cheered as planes exploded

U.S./Cuba plane

U.S. charges 'cold-blooded murder'
in air-to-air attack near Havana

February 27, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Transcripts of communication between the Cuban pilots who shot down two small American planes showed they knew they were shooting at light, unarmed aircraft, U.S. United Nations envoy Madeleine Albright said Tuesday.

Releasing copies of the transcripts after the United Nations had denounced Cuba for downing the planes, Albright said the Cuban MiG pilots' conversation with ground control clearly showed they knew the planes were "small, white-and-blue Cessnas, that they were civilian and that they posed no threat at all."

"The target is in sight, the target is in sight," the transcript shows one of the Cuban pilots radioing back to his headquarters. "It's a small aircraft."

"Copied. A small plane in sight," the ground controller responded.

A few moments later, the MiG pilot identified the plane as a Cessna 337. The controller then said the pilot was "authorized to destroy." After firing, the pilot shouted, "We took out his balls." The pilots of both jets are reportedly heard cheering.

Albright quote

Albright said the transcript showed there was plenty of time for the MiG pilots to carry out the necessary, legal actions to warn the crew of the light aircraft -- by voice contact, dipping wings, and escorting them out of the area -- before shooting them down with air-to-air missiles.

Albright released the transcript shortly before the expected arrival of Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina, who was expected to present his country's side of the issue. Albright did not explain how the transcript was obtained.

The Cubans claim the planes violated their airspace and were part of a series of provocations by Cuban exiles in league with the U.S. government.

Security Council denounces attack

Just hours before dawn Tuesday, the Security Council adopted a statement saying it "strongly deplores" Saturday's attack on the civilian planes, which belonged to Brothers to the Rescue, a Miami-based group of Cuban exiles. The four Cuban-Americans aboard the planes are presumed dead.

The United States had asked the 15-member council to say it "condemns" the attack as an unlawful use of force and a threat to international order, but none of that language was used in the final statement.

Cuba's acting ambassador, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, defended the attack before the council.

Rodriguez quote

The Security Council presidential statement, accepted unanimously -- although without a formal vote -- carries less weight than a formal council resolution, which would have required a vote.

Cuba says the planes were shot down over its territorial waters, but the United States says the planes were over international waters. In the past, the exile group has rescued Cuban refugees from the waters off Cuba and has dropped leaflets over Cuba criticizing Fidel Castro's communist government.

U.S. mulls tighter embargo on Cuba

Senior State Department officials were on Capitol Hill Tuesday discussing legislation sponsored by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana, and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, aimed at tightening the embargo on Cuba.

State Department spokeswoman Glyn Davies said Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Wendy Sherman and others are talking with key legislators about possible changes in the Helms-Burton measure that would make it more acceptable to the administration.

Davies said Cuba acted like "an outlaw nation" in shooting down the two planes and "obviously doesn't give a damn" about international norms of behavior.

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AP contributed to this report.

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