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11 August 2017, 12:39 | Myrtle Vega
US government personnel in Havana report "incidents" causing physical symptoms
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauertappeared to be taken off guard at a briefing with the press pool on Wednesday.
"It's caused a variety of physical symptoms in these American citizens who work for the U.S. government".
The communist government in Cuba has denied any acts of physical hostility against American diplomats despite its long history of harassment and abuse of Americans on the island.
"We are aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana", a spokesperson for Global Affairs told the BBC. The Cuban embassy is in Washington, D.C.
Speaking to CNN, a U.S. official added: "We felt like we needed to respond to the Cubans and remind them of their responsibility under the Vienna convention".
The cause of the symptoms and method of attack is unknown. She also did not note whether the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from Washington was a move to balance the number of diplomats in each country or whether those expelled were involved in the "incidents".
The Cuban government had been alerted to the incidents and medical care has been provided to people experiencing these physical symptoms however, the State Department claims it has not been able to establish the exact cause of this.
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Cuban and USA authorities have confirmed investigations are underway amid reports that a number of U.S. diplomats suffered serious hearing loss while stationed in Havana.
One hypothesis, according to sources who spoke to the BBC, is that the hearing loss could have been caused by a sonic device whose emission of inaudible sound waves could cause deafness if placed outside the diplomats' homes. Several others experienced physical symptoms that resembled concussions while in Cuba. CNN quotes an unnamed official who stated, "We have worked with the Cubans to try and find out what is going on".
The US embassy in Havana only opened in 2015 as part of former President Obama's rapprochement with Cuba.
"Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families", said the statement. The statement also said it had launched an "exhaustive, high-priority, urgent investigation at the behest of the highest level of the Cuban government".
"We can tell you that on May 23rd, the State Department took further action".
"We requested their departure as a reciprocal measure since some USA personnel's assignments in Havana had to be curtailed due to these incidents", she said.
The continuous symptoms reportedly prompted the officials to leave, which first led the State Department to begin looking into the matter.
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