Blinken spoke to Bogota embassy staff affected by Havana syndrome

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on during a meeting with youth leaders in Bogota, Colombia October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/Pool/File Photo

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BOGOTA, Oct 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday met with U.S. embassy staff in Bogota who had been affected by anomalous health incidents (AHIs) - known as Havana syndrome - a senior state department official said.

The Wall Street Journal reported this month that at least five families connected to the U.S. mission in Colombia had been affected by what the State Department calls unexplained health incidents.

Around 200 U.S. diplomats, officials and family members overseas are believed to have been struck by the mysterious ailment - with symptoms including migraines, nausea, memory lapses and dizziness.

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It first came to public attention in 2016 after dozens of diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, complained of the sickness, but officials are yet to reach a firm conclusion of the syndrome's cause or whether an adversary is responsible.

A senior State Department official said Blinken addressed the incidents during a meeting with the embassy staff and families on Thursday, the last stop of a three-day trip to South America.

"He made clear that he has no higher priority than the health and safety of the workforce and emphasized that the Department is determined to get to the bottom of AHIs, provide care to those affected, and protect our colleagues around the world," the official said.

Blinken then had a separate private meeting with those affected by the incident, the official said.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to show it is taking the complaints seriously, with a bipartisan group of senators last week urging Blinken to quickly appoint a new official to head the investigation into them. read more

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Reporting by Simon Lewis Writing by Simon Lewis and Oliver Griffin; editing by Diane Craft and Rosalba O'Brien

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