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Cuba to free 3 prisoners not in church deal of 52

Cuba will release into exile in Spain a lawyer jailed for allegedly revealing state security secrets and two hijackers, none of whom were on a list of 52 political prisoners the government has agreed to free in a deal with the Roman Catholic Church.

The church said Saturday that Rolando Jimenez Posada, an attorney considered by Amnesty International to be a "prisoner of conscience," has agreed to accept early release from prison in exchange for leaving Cuba with his family.

Two other inmates, Ciro Perez Santana and Arturo Suarez Ramos, will also be freed and sent to Spain with their relatives. Both were held for "piracy," which translates to hijacking an airliner or a ferry in an attempt to flee to the U.S.

Perez Santana was arrested in 1994 and had been serving a 20-year sentence, while Suarez Ramos was arrested in 1987 and got a 30-year sentence.

The three weren't among the 75 opposition activists, community organizers, dissidents and independent journalists defying state controls on media who were arrested in a 2003 crackdown on political dissent. Twenty-three of that group were released before July, when Raul Castro's government promised church leaders it would free the remaining 52.

The release of inmates not in the group of dissidents indicates Cuba is expanding its moves to liberate other prisoners considered by international human rights organizations as jailed for their political beliefs.

Cuba had previously maintained it held no political prisoners, saying the 75 were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges that included treason and taking money from the U.S. to destabilize the island's communist government.

Jimenez Posada, the lawyer, was arrested in April 2003 and was serving a 12-year sentence for disrespecting authority and "revealing secrets about state security police" after he publicly pledged support for the political prisoners captured the previous month.

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega "called Rolando this morning at around 11 and told him we should be ready to go" to Madrid, Jimenez Posada's wife, Lamasiel Gutierrez, said Saturday night, when reached at her home on Isla de la Juventud, south of mainland Cuba.

London-based Amnesty International had listed Jimenez Posada as the only "prisoner of conscience" who would have been left in Cuban jails if the government made good on its pledge with the church to free the 52 dissidents.

But Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, says there are about 105 more inmates she considers political prisoners. Some of those have been convicted of violent crimes, however, and Sanchez says only about 40 would fit into the classic definition of nonviolent political prisoners.

All but 13 of the dissidents covered in the deal with the church have been freed. At least seven of those still jailed have rejected freedom because they don't want to leave Cuba.

Why Cuban authorities are pushing to reduce the number of political prisoners is not known, though some people have speculated it may be part of an effort to promote reconciliation with the United States.

The administration of President Barack Obama has long suggested it may be time for a new beginning with Cuba, but it has also said Cuba's government needs to embrace small economic and social reforms before a true thaw can take place.

In addition to freeing political prisoners, Castro's government announced last month that it will lay off a half-million state employees and reduce restrictions on self-employment, small businesses and pockets of free enterprise as a way of modernizing and overhauling its state-dominated economy.