BILL'S NEW CUBA WOES GUARDING EXILES' FLOTILLA
(LPP Archive) - Saturday, March 2th 1996, 1:95AM
President Clinton declared a national emergency last night and the U.S. prepared to deploy 15 fighter jets to keep the peace when a flotilla of Cuban exiles heads today to the site where four comrades were shot down by Cuban Migs.
Determined to avoid a repeat of last Saturday's downing, the Pentagon also ordered the guided-missile cruiser Ticonderoga to the Straits of Florida.
The Coast Guard will escort the flotilla of civilian ships and planes the centerpiece of a Miami Cuban-American day of mourning with two C-130 airplanes, four helicopters and 11 Coast Guard cutters.
Clinton said the emergency gives Transportation Secretary Federico Pena authority to police the flotilla and insure it doesn't stray into Cuban waters.
With the show of force by the U.S. military, Defense Secretary William Perry said: "We do not expect any military conflict to break out."
The extra F-15A jets would join 18 F-15s stationed at Homestead Air Force Base near Miami. The Ticonderoga joins the missile cruiser Mississippi and frigate John Hall, already on patrol in the area.
Clinton vowed to punish civilian U.S. pilots whose planes penetrate Cuban air space. Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina said his country "will act with the utmost restraint."
The exile group vowed to steer clear of Cuban waters when they drop wreaths to the sea to honor the four lost pilots at the site 21 miles off Havana. "We don't want to make it a political show," said Ignacio Herrera of the Cuban Democracy Movement.
Two Cessna aircraft piloted by members of the exile group Brothers to the Rescue were gunned down by Cuban Migs.
Cuba insists the planes violated Cuban airspace; the U.S. says the planes were over international waters.
Cuba also accused the group's leader, Jose Basulto, of violating Cuban air space three times, including last Saturday.
Several group members plan to fly over the flotilla today, Basulto said yesterday.
"To me, it's very important to go there tomorrow," he said. "Unless I go there, I will not release my feelings that they died, and I was there but didn't."