Uranium missile health fears deepen; DU tests could pave the way for war crime charges against NATO

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Uranium missile health fears deepen DU tests could pave the way for war crime charges against NATO

January 15, 2001 Web posted at: 6:47 AM EST (1147 GMT)

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The political fall-out over concerns over the potential health risks to NATO troops exposed to uranium-tipped weapons looks set to intensify.

As Germany's defence minister dismissed the health concerns on Monday, it was reported that Britain was warned a decade ago about the risks to troops of using depleted uranium missiles in combat.

The developments came the day after the chief prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal said NATO's use of depleted uranium could be investigated as a possible war crime.

Carla del Ponte said "if we have sufficient elements we will be obliged to investigate" whether the use of the heavy metal in the Balkans conflicts constituted a war crime.

Depleted uranium (DU) weapons were used in the Balkans by U.S. Air Force A-10 aircraft against Serb armoured vehicles.

DU, used in the tips of missiles, shells and bullets to boost their ability to penetrate armour can be turned on impact into a toxic radioactive dust, some defence experts say.

The Pentagon says 31,000 rounds were fired during the 1999 war over Kosovo. In U.S.-led airstrikes in Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, about 10,800 rounds were fired around Sarajevo.

Several NATO member states, including Italy, are now carrying out their own health and scientific investigations into a possible link between the use of the weapons in the Balkan wars and cancer-related deaths among servicemen serving in the region.

The latest country to embark on an investigation is Switzerland. Its defence ministry said on Sunday it planned to check the health implications of DU weapons test-fired in central Switzerland 30 years ago.

Russia, meanwhile, is calling for an international conference of specialists to look at the problem within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Switzerland is the latest country to launch an investigation into the health claims

Rudolf Scharping, the German defence minister, said he sees no link between reported leukaemia cases among German soldiers and the deployment of German peacekeepers to Kosovo.

After consultations with health experts and military staff, Scharping said he was standing by the finding of independent examinations in 1999 of German troops returning from Kosovo.

Health tests on soldiers sent to Kosovo and those not deployed there showed no differences, he said.

The Defence Ministry says the incidence of two cancers -- leukaemia and lymphoma -- among German soldiers was no higher than among the general population in 1999.

Scharping has called for a moratorium on using depleted uranium weapons so more research can be carried out, but he also has criticised media-generated "hysteria" on the issue.

A newspaper reported that a second German soldier is now blaming his leukaemia on his service in the Balkans. The soldier was stationed in Bosnia in 1996, Welt am Sonntag reported.

Meanwhile, in Britain, a newspaper says the government was warned by its nuclear safety adviser a decade ago about the risks to its own troops of using depleted uranium missiles.

A confidential report written in 1991 by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) made clear that the shells left in Kuwait after the Gulf War were a potential source of radioactive contamination. The Times said.

The Times quoted the AEA report, as saying DU could "become a long-term problem if not dealt with."

The AEA concluded, according to The Times report: "The problem will not go away and should be tackled before it becomes a political problem created by the environmental lobby."

On Sunday, British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon defended the use of depleted uranium arms, which he described as "astonishingly effective."

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), January 15, 2001



Monday, 15 January, 2001, 17:26 GMT Serb doctor's uranium warning

Nato plane in action above Kosovo A top Serb doctor says he has found many cases of serious health problems probably due to weapons used in the Bosnian conflict.

Dr Zoran Stankovic, a pathologist and the head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade, has toured the areas in which contamination is thought to be most severe.

In an interview for BBC News Online he says not only depleted uranium, but also deposits left behind in shell craters, may be causing illness.

His evidence adds weight to those who are calling for an investigation into the health risks associated with depleted uranium (DU) used in armour-piercing weaponry in both Bosnia and later in Kosovo.

Nato insists there is no evidence of a link between DU and higher incidences of cancer and leukaemia reported by troops who served in the Balkans.

Seven Italians, five Belgians, two Dutch nationals, two Spaniards, a Portuguese and a Czech national have died after serving in the Balkans. Four French soldiers have also contracted leukaemia.

Dr Stankovic said illnesses comparable to "Gulf War Syndrome", as well as unexpectedly high cancer rates are appearing in the local population.

Speaking to BBC News Online, he described the case of one girl who fell into a coma after playing in a recently-made bomb crater.

Coma peril

He said: "Just a few days later her fingernails as well as toenails started falling out.

"She began suffering from various health problems, such as asthmatic bronchitis, and inflammation of the respiratory organs and airways."

She fell into a coma a year later, recovering after five days in a specialist children's unit, but still suffers from epilepsy and powerful headaches, he said.

He said that other ingredients of the shells used in the conflict had caused health problems, alleging that fluoride deposits left behind had been rendered highly acidic by damp conditions.

He said: "We've had cases of not only fingernails coming out, but the fingers themselves."

He has also conducted his own studies of cancer rates following the Bosnian conflict, examining the health of thousands of people who had been living in an area, Hadzici, which suffered heavy bombardment by DU shells.

He said: "That group of people developed a large number of malignant diseases, after the first two or three years, as well as an increased mortality rate.

"Four hundred of them have died so far - more than 10% of the original population of Hadzici which moved away following the bombardment.

"Our initial suspicion was that there was a link to the effects of depleted uranium."

He is calling for a wider investigation of the higher death rates.

The cancers which arose in the refugees from Hadzici, he said, were often in the lung, liver, and kidney, he said.

"Nobody can claim that all those malignant diseases are the consequence of depleted uranium. I would suggest we investigate that group of people where we can still today clearly follow changes."

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), January 15, 2001.

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