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Dissidents: Cuba Frees 2 More Political Prisoners

Cuba has freed five more detainees, dissidents said on Thursday, as Havana begins to release 53 people the United States considers political prisoners as part of an agreement aimed at ending decades of hostility between the two nations.

Eight detainees have been liberated over the past 24 hours, including three on Wednesday, political opposition groups on the communist-led island said, all but one members of the dissident Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Havana's commitment to free the prisoners was a major part of an historic deal announced last month under which the two governments agreed to renew diplomatic relations after more than 50 years.

Like the detainees released on Wednesday, those freed on Thursday had been accused of relatively minor offenses. The latest UNPACU detainees to be freed were Ernesto Riveri Gascon, Lazaro Romero Hurtado, Emilio Plana Robert, and Yohannes Arce Sarmientos, UNPACU said.

Romero was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to four years behind bars on charges including making a public disturbance and threats, apparently during a confrontation with police. Riveri was given two years on the same charges.

Plana was detained in 2012 and given a three-and-a-half-year term for his activities with the opposition, dissidents said, and Arce had been awaiting sentencing after being arrested last year on similar allegations.

Another detainee freed on Thursday was named by dissidents as Jose Manuel Rodriguez Navarro. They said he was detained in 2013 and sentenced to four years in prison, allegedly for writing letters denouncing Cuba's government.

Cuba's government does not comment on police actions involving detentions, and has said nothing about this week's releases. It typically describes dissidents as being in the pay of the United States.

Elizardo Sanchez, president of the dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which monitors such detentions, said more releases were expected on Thursday and over the coming days.

"That could indicate the start of the process ... under which around 50 Cuban political prisoners would be released from custody," Sanchez said in a statement.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, executive secretary of UNPACU, said 36 members of his organization remained in custody. All eight of those freed so far appear on an informal list drawn up by dissidents, but it is not known if they were on the official list of 53.

Details about the political prisoners who will be freed have been withheld by both governments, providing ammunition for Republican congressional opponents and other hardline critics of the policy shift.

One U.S. congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters Wednesday Cuba was resisting the release of some prisoners on the list, but a White House official denied that, saying the U.S. government fully expected all 53 to be liberated.

Cuban and U.S. officials are due to hold talks in Havana this month on migration and normalization of diplomatic ties.