US embassy staff told to leave Cuba

VIDEO: REUTERS
The American embassy in Havana (right) will stop processing visas and is set to issue a new travel warning, saying that some attacks occurred in Cuban hotels and US tourists could be exposed if they travel to Cuba.
The American embassy in Havana (right) will stop processing visas and is set to issue a new travel warning, saying that some attacks occurred in Cuban hotels and US tourists could be exposed if they travel to Cuba.PHOTO: REUTERS

60% receive order due to 'specific attacks' on diplomats; new travel warning to be issued

WASHINGTON • The United States has ordered 60 per cent of its staff to leave the American Embassy in Havana because of "specific attacks" on diplomats, according to a news report, citing unidentified senior officials.

The embassy would stop processing visas and was set to issue a new travel warning yesterday, saying that some attacks occurred in Cuban hotels and US tourists could be exposed if they travel to Cuba, the officials told Associated Press yesterday.

Citing unidentified officials, CNN and other US media last month reported that the US embassy staff may have been harmed by a sonic device fired either inside or outside their Havana residences.

The State Department said the victims had experienced physical symptoms caused by unspecified "incidents" starting as far back as late last year.

US officials said 21 US diplomats and family members have been afflicted by health problems of unknown origin, including hearing loss, dizziness and nausea. Several Canadians have also been affected in Cuba, said a Canadian official.

The Cuban government has denied any role and is investigating. But it has so far said it has been unable to determine the cause.

Some countries have developed sonic and ultrasonic weapons that can be used for crowd control or, for example, to deter seaborne pirates without resorting to lethal force.

But audiologists have raised doubts over whether any sonic weapon exists that can be used covertly to bring about the range of symptoms mentioned by the diplomats.

The State Department has not blamed Cuba for the attacks, but asked two Cuban diplomats to leave Washington in May.

A partial evacuation, even one depicted by the Trump administration as a safety measure, would send a message of US displeasure over Cuba's handling of the matter, and deliver another blow to Obama-era engagement policies with Havana.

Though Washington has not put direct blame on the Cuban authorities, the State Department said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reminded Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez in Washington on Tuesday of Cuba's duty to protect diplomats and their families.

Mr Rodriguez, in turn, warned Washington against taking hasty decisions over the alleged incidents and urged its authorities to cooperate in the investigation.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'US embassy staff told to leave Cuba'. Print Edition | Subscribe