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HAVANA - Cuban church officials on Saturday released the names of 12 more political prisoners who will be freed and sent into exile under a landmark agreement with President Raul Castro's government, bringing to 17 the total number of jailed dissidents who have accepted asylum in Spain.

While there has been no word on when exactly the men will be freed, there are growing signs that a release could be imminent, with the wife of one prisoner saying Cuban officials told her to prepare to leave the country.

"They (Cuban officials) called me to tell me to get ready to leave," Barbara Rojo, the wife of prisoner Omar Ruiz, told the Associated Press.

Another prisoner, Jose Luis Garcia, was being moved from a jail in Las Tunas to Havana, said his mother, Moralinda Paneque.

The 17 are among a group of 52 opposition leaders, journalists and activists who remain in jail after a broad crackdown on dissent in 2003 that resulted in lengthy prison terms on treason and other charges.

The government agreed to release them after a meeting Wednesday between Castro and Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega. The church has taken an increasingly public role in relations between the government and the opposition since the death of a jailed dissident hunger striker in February. The meeting was brokered by visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

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Spies for Cuba have request

A Washington couple who spent 30 years spying for Cuba are asking a federal judge to recommend that they be incarcerated near each other - but not in Florida, where they say the federal prisons "will likely have populations of Cuban-Americans who might react strongly to their offense."

Walter Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers pleaded guilty in November to sending secrets to the United States' longtime antagonist. They are scheduled to be sentenced Friday before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton.

Walter Myers - a former State Department employee with top-secret clearance - agreed to a life sentence without parole and to cooperate with the federal government in a deal that offered his wife a much lighter sentence than the 20 years she might have faced at trial.

The pair is asking that Walton recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that they be incarcerated near each other, to allow family to visit them.

McClatchy Newspapers