US orders 15 Cuban diplomats expelled following 'acoustic' attacks

A vintage car drives by the US Embassy in Havana, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said could be closed over alleged sonic attacks on American diplomats (AFP Photo/YAMIL LAGE) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats, accusing Havana of failing to protect US diplomats following a series of mysterious incidents in which embassy staff were sickened.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, however, that the United States would continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba even though the size of the US mission in Havana would be reduced to a minimum.

"The decision was made due to Cuba's failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention," he said in a statement.

"This order will ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations," he said.

"Until the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm," Tillerson said.

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

Those affected have exhibited physical symptoms including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.

The United States will "continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and will continue to cooperate with Cuba as we pursue the investigation into these attacks," he added.

US relations with Havana were only fully restored in 2015, and have deteriorated since President Donald Trump took office in January.

In late September, Tillerson said he was withdrawing more than half the personnel from its embassy in Cuba in response to the mysterious attacks.