Depleted Uranium in the Balkans


Felicity Arbuthnot

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
.