December 23, 2010 / 11:51 PM / 9 years ago

Cuba to free two more political prisoners: church

* Church says the two prisoners to be released soon

* They have agreed to live in exile in Spain

* They are not part of the original 52 Cuba agreed to free

HAVANA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Cuba will release two more political prisoners who have agreed to go to Spain in exchange for their freedom, bringing the total freed this year to 56, the Catholic Church said on Thursday.

The two men are not part of the group of 52 prisoners President Raul Castro promised to release in a deal announced in July, 11 of whom remain behind bars.

The church said Miguel Angel Vidal Guadarrama and Hector Larroque Rego will be released at an unspecified date soon.

Both were imprisoned for crimes, some involving violence, related to attempts to escape the island and were serving sentences of up to 22 years, said the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights.

Cuba has been releasing political prisoners in response to international condemnation that followed the February death of an imprisoned dissident after an 85-day hunger strike for improved prison conditions.

Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega has said the government wants to release all its political prisoners but there is disagreement on who qualifies as a political prisoner and who does not.

The government views all the prisoners as mercenaries in the employ of its ideological enemy, the United States, and wants them to leave the country.

Still unknown is when the remaining 11 of the original 52, all of whom were jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissidents, will be freed.

So far, 40 of them have been released and gone to Spain, which has agreed to take them in, while one has been freed and allowed to stay in Cuba.

The 11 still in jail have said they want to stay on the Caribbean island, and Ortega has said he has assurances from Castro they will be released at some point.

It was assumed in July that all would be freed by early November because the original announcement said the process of freeing them would take three to four months.

Cuban Commission of Human Rights leader Elizardo Sanchez said he was mystified about why the government is releasing other prisoners while the 11 stay in jail.

“We don’t find a rational explanation for this exclusion if it’s not political reasons,” he told Reuters.

Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Jeff Franks and Bill Trott

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