Fidel Castro said people still refered to him "affectionately" by his former titles.

Fidel Castro has finally confirmed his resignation as head of Cuba''s Communist Party, five years after quitting the post.

Castro, 84, retreated from public life and ceded most of his duties to his brother, Raul Castro, when he underwent emergency intestinal surgery in 2006.

He officially handed the country''s presidency to his brother, Raul Castro, in February 2008, having led the Caribbean nation since the 1959 revolution that brought him to power.

The Communist Party is due to hold its first congress since 1997 next month, prompting speculation that a new leader, assumed by many to be Raul Castro, would be formally chosen. A new central committee for Cuba''s only legal political party is also expected to be elected.

In a column published in the state-run media on Tuesday, Fidel Castro said he had already given up all of his official positions, although he said people continued to refer to him "affectionately" by his former titles.

"I resigned without hesitation all my state and political positions, even that of First Secretary of the Party, when I got sick and I never tried to exercise them after the proclamation of July 31, 2006," a reference to the statement in which he ceded power to his brother.

Castro is widely believed to have continued playing a behind-the-scenes role during his illness and made his first public appearance in four years last July.

His announcement prompted surprise among some Cubans.

"It''s incredible. Nobody can believe it," said Magaly Delgado, a 72-year-old Havana retiree, told the Associated Press news agency. "I always thought he was still in charge. ... He never said he had resigned."

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church said on Tuesday that the Cuban government would release two political dissidents held since 2003.

Activists Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer are the last of 75 prominent intellectuals, opposition leaders and activists whose imprisonment on charges including treason had attacked criticism from Amnesty International and human rights activists.

Cuba has been releasing the prisoners gradually under a July agreement reached between Raul Castro and Jaime Ortega.

Source: Agencies