Cuban activists have demanded that dissidents
be freed [EPA]

Cuba is set to free seven political dissidents held since a crackdown in 2003 by Fidel Castro's government according to the Spanish foreign minister has said.

Miguel Angel Moratinos said four members of the group will be granted asylum in Spain along with their family members.

"It is a unilateral decision by the Cuban authorities that we appreciate," he said at a news conference in the southern Spanish city of Cordoba.

The dissidents were among a group of 75 people arrested in a government crackdown on the opposition in 2003.

Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation confirmed that four prisoners were being released and sent to Spain.

News welcomed

The announcement comes after Spain and Cuba held talks on human rights in Madrid this week.

"This is very good news," said Manuel Cuesta Morua, a Cuban dissident.

"It shows the Cuban government is responding to requests for their release from the international community."

The Spanish foreign ministry said the four set to arrive in Spain were Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, a union leader, Omar Pernet Hernandez, Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo, and Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, a journalist.

The Cuban authorities had sentenced the four to between 14 and 25 years in prison.

All suffer from health problems for which they could receive treatment in Spain, Spanish media said.

UN documents

Sanchez said there were 234 political prisoners in Cuba at the end of 2007, down from 283 at the end of the previous year.

The figure indicates a drop in the number of Cubans behind bars for political reasons since Raul Castro took over as acting president from his ailing brother Fidel in mid-2006.

Following this week's talks, Spain said Havana had agreed to sign two United Nations rights documents by the end of March - one on economic, social and cultural rights and the other covering civic and political rights.

The Cuban government insists there are no political prisoners, only mercenaries financed by the US, criminals and "terrorists".

Source: Agencies