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Depleted Uranium in the Balkans
In a week that saw the French government follow their Italian counterparts in launching an enquiry into the effects of depleted uranium (DU) on their soldiers in Kosova, Antonio Pereira, the Portugese Defense Minister, informed NATO Headquarters that he is withdrawing Portugese troops from Kosmet. They were not, he said, going to become uranium meat. DU, first used in the 1991 Gulf war, is both chemically toxic and radioactive and is used as coating, ballast, or core for weapons.
Two Italian K-FOR soldiers were flown to Rome suffering from cancers and the Rome Military Attorney has joined his colleagues in Milan, Turin, and Venice in investigating DU in Kosova and the Balkans and effects on Italian troops. Last month the Yugoslav ambassador to the Czech Republic, Djoko Stojicic, told media in Prague that K-FOR soldiers in Kosova-Metohia had long been experiencing health problems associated with DU. NATO French Air Force Commander General Joffret, said the west apparently wanted to get rid of their nuclear waste, contaminating the region. Belgium and Dutch troops were instructed by their governments not to eat local produce and that clothes must be destroyed on departure and vehicles decontaminated. K-FOR contingencies have drinking water flown in.
Antonio Pereira said his decision should have been made earlier and that Portugese forces should not have participated in last year's 72-day war in the Balkans. Former UK Minister of Defense, now NATO Secretary General, George Robertson, was well aware of the dangers posed by DU, he said.
“Portugese soldiers were sent on missions in the area poisoned with depleted uranium,” Pereira wrote in the influential Lisbon journal Diario de Noticias. NATO confirmed that the area was contaminated by DU and the UN representative also confirmed and apologized. Pereira stated that there was “opposition in the headquarters of other countries performing missions in poisoned areas. If it is hard to persuade military circles in Washington, Paris, London or Berlin to send their troops to the critical areas in Kosova, does that mean that the Portugese are to represent uranium meat?”
Earlier this year a seven-page document warning of the hazards of DU was placed in the mail boxes of all personnel working out of the UN building in Pristina and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Command in Europe (SHAPE) issued warnings to United States Commands urging the widest possible dissemination to forces of other nations. A recent meeting of the United Nations Environment Program attended by bodies including the International Atomic Energy Authority and the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute resulted in ongoing consultations as to how to “proceed with a scientific field assessment of DU sites” according to Director Klaus Toep- fer. Previous assessments had been hampered by NATO's refusal to provide maps of affected areas.
Dr. Asav Durakovic and Dr. Hari Sharma, world renowned radiation experts who tested sick Gulf war veterans for the presence of DU in their bodies and found up to 100 times the “safe” limit remaining eight years after the Gulf war, recently briefed the Justice and Human Rights Commission at the European Parliament. Durakovic said, “There is much to be done, but our research demonstrates the magnitude of the problem.”
If “Balkans Syndrome” is proven to affect K-FOR and reportedly other personnel working in the region, the population of former Yugoslavia may also suffer the cancers and birth deformities that have affected Iraq—and NATO's “humanitarian” toxic war will continue to maim and kill long into the future. Z
Felicity Arbuthnot is a jounalist specializing in social and environmental issues. She was Iraq researcher for John Pilger's award winning film: Paying the Price—Killing the Children of Iraq.