- Thousands of European soldiers who served in Nato forces
in Kosovo are to be tested for radiation after claims that they developed
cancer through exposure to allied munitions.
- Portugal and Spain will join the Italians, French and
Belgians this week in carrying out a systematic review of the health of
the troops they sent to the region to discover whether they were exposed
to dangerous levels of depleted uranium in ammunition used by American
- Portugal will also send a mission of military personnel
and scientists from the National Atomic Institute to Kosovo to test radiation
levels in areas where depleted uranium shells fell.
- The decision follows an outcry in Portugal over the death
from leukaemia of Hugo Paulino, a young Portuguese corporal, three weeks
after returning from peacekeeping in Kosovo. The defence ministry refused
to release his body to his family for an autopsy and radiation testing,
citing "herpes of the brain" as the cause of death. "It
was depleted uranium that killed him," insisted his father, Luis,
in an interview on Portuguese television.
- Two Italian soldiers have died of leukaemia since returning
from Kosovo and a leaked military document published in La Repubblica last
week admitted that Italian soldiers were dying from leukaemia caused by
depleted uranium. Another Italian, Rinaldo Colombo, 31, who served as a
peacekeeper in Bosnia in 1995, has also died of the disease.
- Nato said last week that American aircraft fired 10,800
depleted uranium shells in Bosnia in 1994-95. Research has shown that exposure
to depleted uranium causes health problems that may lead to cancer and
neurological and immune system defects in addition to damage to the reproductive
- Politicians in Portugal and Italy have accused Nato of
a cover-up and demanded that their governments should think more carefully
before participating in future Nato operations. The Portuguese announcement
leaves Britain increasingly isolated as one of the few members of the Nato
forces not to be carrying out any investigation. The Dutch government is
also planning an inquiry.
- A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said yesterday
that it was monitoring the investigations by its Nato allies but had no
plans to test its own soldiers. She said: "We do take the welfare
of our personnel very seriously and we'll keep an eye on the outcome of
any further investigations into depleted uranium."
- She insisted, however, that there was no cause for concern.
"Our medical advice has told us that depleted uranium is no more radioactive
than, for example, a household smoke detector. It does have a recognised
toxicity but only if ingested into the digestive system, not if it merely
comes into contact with the skin."
- She said that the MoD had carried out a substantial amount
of scientific research into the issue following the Gulf war, when weapons
tipped or packed with depleted uranium were used extensively for the first
- About 5,000 British ex-servicemen who served in the Gulf
war have reported symptoms of the various conditions referred to as Gulf
war syndrome and about 3,500 are claiming war pensions, according to figures
from the Gulf Veterans Association. More than 500 have died of related
- Campaigners say exposure to depleted uranium is partly
to blame. Tests last year by Canadian scientists found that some Gulf veterans
had uranium in their blood.
- The Pentagon originally denied that uranium shells were
used in Kosovo but in March Lord Robertson, the Secretary General of Nato,
said that 31,000 shells containing depleted uranium had been used by American
A10 ground attack aircraft in Kosovo. Known as Warthogs, the A10s use uranium
bullets for knocking out tanks. The fine, poisonous dust remains in the
atmosphere and pollutes water supplies.
- America was the only allied force to use depleted uranium
in its missiles. The United States Defence Department maintains that they
carry no greater health risk than conventional weapons.
- Roger Coghill, an experimental biologist who runs a research
centre in Wales, accused the Americans and the MoD of brushing the "biological
truth" under the carpet. "One single particle of depleted uranium
lodged in the lymph node can devastate the entire immune system,"
he told a conference in London, adding a warning that there may be thousands
more deaths in Kosovo.
- The United Nations has a team in Kosovo carrying out
its own investigation that will report in February.
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