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CUBAN CONFERENCE SEEKS TO HEAL BITTER RIFT BETWEEN CASTRO, EXILES

President Fidel Castro mingled over canapes with men who once tried to overthrow him.

The cordial gathering late Sunday at Castro's official residence on the Plaza of the Revolution capped a conference designed to improve relations between exiles and the Cuban government.

It included former members of organizations that once mounted attacks against the Communist island, along with longtime supporters of closer U.S.-Cuban ties.

Officials insisted the meeting was meant to begin healing the rift between Cubans, not to seek dollars from Cubans abroad or divide Cuban-Americans. Exile dollars already rival tourism as a major source of income here.

About 225 exiles, more than 150 from the United States, attended the three-day conference, the first meeting since 1978 between exiled Cubans, who have opposed Castro's government for 35 years, and Cuban officials.

Rafael Huguet, who fought alongside Castro against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista but later fought Castro because of the government's turn to Soviet support, said: "In general everything is a positive step."

The officials excoriated hard-line anti-Castro factions in Havana and encouraged exiles to invest, although the U.S. embargo blocks people in the United States from investing.

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