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Cuba to invite U.N. torture investigator to visit

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba is inviting the U.N. special investigator on torture to visit the country this year, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez said on Wednesday.

Perez announced the planned visit of Manfred Novak as he elaborated on plans for Cuba to testify next month before the U.N. Human Rights Council on the situation in the Communist-run nation.

“Cuba is a country where in the last 50 years there has not been a single person ‘’disappeared’’, case of torture nor extrajudicial execution,” Perez said.

For decades Cuba refused to cooperate with the U.N. Human Rights Commission or receive investigators, claiming they were part of U.S. efforts to besmirch and undermine the revolution.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission was reorganized into the Human Rights Council with less western influence in 2007. Cuba has cooperated with the new body and is a member.

Novak has the title of “Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The U.N. special rapporteur for food visited Cuba in 2007.

U.N. member governments must present a report on the human rights situation in their country to the U.N. Human Rights Council every four years .

Cuba at times imprisons opponents of the one-party state for subversion and the dissidents charge prison conditions they suffer often amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

The government labels all opponents as mercenaries working for the United States and denies charges of unsanitary prison conditions, poor food, and other abusive treatment.

Elizardo Sanchez, president of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission on Human Rights, said inviting Novak appeared to be a positive step, but questioned the government’s sincerity.

“The visit could be positive if the government is sincere, something which I do not see at this time,” he said.

The group puts the number of political prisoners on the island at 219.

Perez insisted his government was sincere in preparing its human rights report and inviting the U.N. investigator.

“Cuba has prepared for next month in a serious, broad and participatory manner that has included nongovernmental organizations,” Perez said.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by David Storey