Some US visitors to Cuba complain of symptoms similar to embassy attacks: State Department

American tourists talk to a street seller during a walk in Havana, Cuba on Sept 29, 2017. The US State Department issued a warning urging Americans to stay away from Cuba because of unexplained health "attacks". PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A "handful" of private US citizens who travelled to Cuba say they have experienced symptoms similar to those suffered by American diplomats in mysterious health "attacks" in Havana, the US State Department said on Friday (Oct 06).

A State Department spokeman, who declined to be named, said the agency could not verify the claims, but said travellers should heed its travel warning issued last Friday.

The warning urged Americans to stay away from Cuba because of unexplained health "attacks" it says have caused hearing loss, dizziness, fatigue and cognitive issues among at least 22 diplomatic personnel.

The Trump administration on Tuesday expelled 15 Cuban diplomats to protest against Cuba's failure to protect staff at the US embassy in the communist country, just days after Washington recalled more than half the US diplomatic personnel from Havana.

Cuba has denied involvement, and Washington has not directly blamed the government in Havana. So far, probes have not yielded any answers about how the alleged attacks were carried out or who was responsible.

The warning said the attacks had occurred in "diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by US citizens". CBS News first reported that some private citizens had complained of symptoms after visiting Cuba.

On Friday, the US embassy in Havana identified Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri as the two places where it said embassy personnel had been targeted over the past few months, and said the US government had "imposed limitations on lodging" there.

Receptionists at both hotels, when contacted by Reuters, said they had not heard of any restrictions. Both said they had Americans registered there.

US intelligence operatives working undercover were among the embassy personnel affected by the attacks, but it was unclear if they were specifically targeted since the symptoms hit staff across a range of job categories, US officials have told Reuters.

The steps taken by President Donald Trump's administration deliver another blow to his predecessor Barack Obama's policy of rapprochement, including actions likely to erode the normalisation of a relationship dominated for decades by Cold War hostility and suspicion.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced the expulsion of Cuban diplomats as "unjustified", accused the United States of insufficient cooperation with Cuba's investigation and urged Washington to stop politicising the matter.

Theories about the attacks abound, from surveillance technology gone awry to a sophisticated acoustic weapon in the hands of Cuban-American exiles or third-party state actors such as Russia, Iran or North Korea. But no clear explanation has emerged.

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