United States expels 15 Cuban diplomats following mysterious 'acoustic attacks'

FIGHTING FUND

FIGHTING FUND

The United States ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats on Tuesday, accusing Havana of failing to protect their U.S. counterparts from harm in a series of mystery "attacks" on their health.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, however, that the United States would continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba even though the size of the U.S. mission in Havana would be reduced to a minimum.

He said the decision was made "due to Cuba's failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats".

The 15 Cuban diplomats selected by the USA will have a week to leave, a State Department official said.

The recently re-opened US embassy in Cuba will have its staffing reduced to emergency personnel only, and visa operations have been suspended indefinitely as a result of the action.

Mr Tillerson said the United States is maintaining diplomatic relations and will cooperate with Cuba while the investigation continues.

The steps taken by President Donald Trump's administration mark another blow to his predecessor Barack Obama's policy of rapprochement between Washington and Havana, former Cold War foes.

But Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced it as an "unjustified decision", accused the United States of insufficient cooperation with Cuba's investigation of the incidents and urged Washington to stop politicizing the matter.

"By these politically motivated and thoughtless actions, the USA government is responsible for the current and possibly future deterioration of bilateral relations", he said. The State Department has not directly blamed Havana for them but asked two Cuban diplomats to leave Washington in May.

The United States announced on Friday that it was sharply reducing its diplomatic presence in Cuba, as it warned USA citizens not to visit the Communist-ruled island because of attacks that have caused hearing loss, dizziness and fatigue in U.S. embassy personnel.

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The decision announced Tuesday is certain to deepen the rift between the two countries over what the State Department has called "specific attacks" on USA diplomats during the past 10 months.

United States transnational news agency Association Press gave impetus yesterday to Washington's assertion that USA diplomats in Havana have suffered mysterious sensory attacks by alleging that intelligence agents have been especially targeted.

The State Department is expected to announce the decision Tuesday, officials said, though they cautioned no decision was formalized until publicly announced.

Diplomats in Havana that handle American citizen services, analyze Cuba's political system and handle outreach to the island's dissident community were also leaving.

The U.S. said that since some workers had been attacked in Havana hotels, it couldn't assure Americans who visit Cuba that they wouldn't suffer attacks.

Cuba is still investigating the cause of the health effects and the decision to expel some of their officials isn't a finding of guilt or a change in policy, the U.S. official said.

The US government first acknowledged the attacks in August, after the State Department expelled two Cuban diplomats from Washington over safety concerns, The Hill magazine reported.

It also said new, faster communications channels have been opened between the USA embassy in Havana and Cuba's diplomatic security department.

Though the US State Department has called all the cases "medically confirmed", several officials doubt whether all the victims' symptoms can be conclusively tied to attacks.

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