Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’ -paper

People wait to enter the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in this September 29, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Canadian diplomats hit by Cuba illness feel ‘abandoned’ -paper

  • US and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems

OTTAWA: A group of Canadian diplomats who left the embassy in Cuba after suffering unusual health symptoms say their foreign ministry has abandoned them, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Monday.
Canada said in April it would remove the families of staff posted to Havana, where both Canadian and US diplomats have complained of dizziness, headaches and nausea.
The diplomats complained that the foreign ministry — unlike the US State Department — had said very little about the matter in public and did not appear to be making their case a priority. Getting specialized medical care has been difficult, they added.
“We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed — that’s how we’re feeling now,” the paper quoted one of them as saying.
Several of those affected believe Ottawa has said little in public because it wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba, the Globe added.
An official at the Canadian foreign ministry did not respond directly when asked about the diplomats’ complaints that they had been abandoned, but said the situation was very difficult.
“It is really an unprecedented type of incident, which has a lot of uncertainty. Our response to it has evolved since we first became aware of it,” said the official, adding that Ottawa had done its best to make medical care available.
The official requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
US and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems. The United States has reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum 18.
NBC News said in September that US officials believe the health problems may have been caused by sophisticated electromagnetic weapons.
The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) — the union representing rank and file diplomats — said the initial government reaction had been inadequate, in part because no one had experience of such a problem.
“Everyone is worried because if you don’t know what something is, and it’s unpredictable, nobody can say for sure that (it) isn’t going to happen again,” PAFSO president Pamela Isfeld said in a phone interview. “I totally do not blame them for being very unhappy with this.”
Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said she was deeply troubled by the health problems the diplomats were experiencing.


Members of first all-female Afghan orchestra missing in Slovakia

Updated 39 min 55 sec ago
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Members of first all-female Afghan orchestra missing in Slovakia

  • Zohra, an ensemble of 35 teenagers and young women musicians, played a concert on Saturday at a festival in the western town of Trencin
  • Some members of Zohra are orphans or from poor families

BRATISLAVA: Police in Slovakia said on Thursday they were searching for four members of Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra who went missing from their hotel after performing at a local festival.
Zohra, an ensemble of 35 teenagers and young women musicians, played a concert on Saturday at a festival in the western town of Trencin, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Bratislava, near the Czech border.
Four members went missing from their hotel on Sunday, Slovak police said.
“I can confirm that the search for two female teenagers and two female adults from Afghanistan is ongoing,” Pavol Kudlicka, a spokesperson for the Trencin regional police, told AFP on Thursday.
He added that the musicians returned to their hotel after the concert but went missing the next morning.
“Due to legal reasons and the ongoing investigation no names can be disclosed for now,” Kudlicka added.
Local Slovak media reported that some orchestra members had said that one of the girls had a cousin in Germany.
Some members of Zohra are orphans or from poor families.
They have faced death threats in their homeland where music was banned during the Taliban’s repressive 1996-2001 rule.
Music is still frowned upon in much of Afghan society, which is tightly segregated by gender.
Despite the disappearance, the Zohra orchestra, named after a Persian goddess of music, played several concerts in western Slovakia this week.
They have performed at home and abroad, notably at the closing the World Economic Forum in Davos two years ago.