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US expels Cuban diplomats after Havana 'incidents'

The US has expelled two diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington after incidents in Havana left American officials with potentially permanent hearing loss. Cuba denies involvement and has launched an investigation.

The US State Department on Wednesday announced it had expelled two Cuban diplomats following a series of "incidents" requiring medical attention for diplomatic staff at the US embassy in Havana.

Some of the affected staff members were evacuated to the US while others chose to return voluntarily, said US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

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"We don't have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents," said Nauert.

"It's caused a variety of physical symptoms in these American citizens who work for the US government. We take those incidents very seriously, and there is an investigation currently under way."

'Willingness to cooperate'

The Cuban Foreign Ministry has responded by defending itself, saying the security and well-being of foreign diplomatic staff on Cuban soil has always been a priority for the government.

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"Cuba has never, nor would ever, allow the Cuban territory to be used for any kind of action against accredited diplomats or their families," the ministry said. It added that it had launched an investigation after the May incident, saying "it reiterates its willingness to cooperate in the clarification of this situation."

Deteriorating relations

Relations between Washington and Havana have deteriorated since US President Donald Trump assumed the presidency in January.

The Trump administration announced in June new restrictions on American travel to the island nation along with a clampdown on US business dealings, but stopped short of cutting diplomatic relations restored under former President Barack Obama.

In 1960, Washington cut ties with Cuba after President Raul Castro's brother Fidel led an armed insurgency against the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista that led to his ouster.

Under Obama, Washington re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba following more than half a century of hostilities.

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ls/cmk (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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