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US Orders Expulsion of 15 Cuban Diplomats from Washington

US Orders Expulsion of 15 Cuban Diplomats from Washington

The State Department announced Tuesday it had told Cuba to remove 15 people from its embassy in Washington, a not-quite-tit-for-tat reprisal for the sudden departure last week of US diplomats from Havana after a spate of weird health scares.

USA secretary of state Rex Tillerson had earlier said that kicking out 15 Cuban diplomats would "ensure equity".

Tillerson 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 U.S. will have a week to leave, a State Department official said.

But he said the move to reduce staffing at the Havana embassy was needed to "minimise the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm".

The attacks, initially described as emanating from some sort of acoustic device, have affected at least 22 United States embassy staff in Havana over the past few months.

The decision is aimed at keeping parity in staffing levels after the U.S. ordered more than half its diplomats and their families to leave the island 29 September following the unexplained incidents, which left staff with hearing loss, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, a State Department official, who asked not to be identified, briefed reporters.

But the Cubans have said they will continue to cooperate with USA authorities in what is already an unprecedented willingness to allow Federal Bureau of Investigation agents into Cuba to investigate.

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

But, the official said, Cuba must be held accountable for protecting American diplomats.

But the freakish case has brought simmering U.S. -Cuba tensions since Trump took office to a boil.

Officials are disappointed by punitive measures imposed by the United States but will continue co-operating with investigations into the mystery phenomenon.

Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director general of U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said in a short statement on TV that Cuba has "no responsibility" for the alleged "sonic attacks" on United States diplomats.

USA officials had previously told reporters they believed some kind of inaudible sound weapon was used on the U.S. staff either inside or outside their residences in Havana.

The expulsions bring the level of Cuban diplomatic staff in Washington closer to the number of personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the official said. The US 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 if they stay in hotels there.

In Havana, the US had roughly 54 diplomats in its embassy until deciding Friday to pull more than half of them out and leave behind only "essential personnel".

The Associated Press reported that Cuban official called the American response "irresponsible", and "hasty".

While the move is described as an "expulsion", the USA isn't declaring them "persona non grata" - a designation that would prevent them from ever returning, according to a State Department official.

Also on Friday, the USA government warned against travels to Cuba.

Expelling Cuban diplomats does not reflect an assignment of blame, a senior State Department official told reporters ahead of the announcement.

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