Cuban runner, coach apparently defect in Uruguay

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) - A Cuban long-distance runner and track coach have disappeared in Uruguay and apparently intend to defect, officials said Wednesday.

Aguelmis Rojas and Rafael Diaz arrived in January on a sports exchange program in Maldonado, east of the capital, said Edgard Silveira, president of the local track federation. They dropped out of sight a day before they were to return to Cuba.

"They simply disappeared and even left behind a cell phone we had given them," Silveira said. "It really took us by surprise. Nobody expected they would make this decision."

Ruling party lawmaker Jaime Trobo, head of the legislature's International Affairs Commission, told The Associated Press he had been in contact with Rojas and Diaz through another Cuban who had sought refuge in the South American nation.

"I explained to them that they would have no problem whatsoever asking for residence in Uruguay." He added that they apparently decided to defect because "they were tired of the situation in their country."

Rojas, 30, placed 47th in the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens. Diaz is his coach.

Their whereabouts were unknown, and the Cuban Embassy said nobody was available to comment.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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