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The BBC's Special Correspondent, Ben Brown
"In Italy so-called "Balkans Syndrome" has caused an outrage"
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The BBC's James Coomarasamy reports
"France has called on the US to be more open about the matter"
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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 16:44 GMT
EU presses Nato over uranium arms

European Commission President Romano Prodi has said he wants to know the truth about the effect of Nato weapons on soldiers who served in the Balkans, and on the civilian population.


The commission must ascertain the truth, concerning not just our soldiers but also those who were living alongside them

Romano Prodi
In an interview with Italian state radio, he said that weapons using depleted uranium (DU) should be abolished, if they posed any risk to human health.

Italy on Wednesday became the latest European country to ask Nato to investigate the so-called Balkan syndrome, after a sixth Italian soldier died of leukaemia.

France, which has revealed that four soldiers are being treated for leukaemia, has also added its voice to requests from Portugal and Belgium for an inquiry.

Five soldiers have died in Belgium and one in Portugal.

Nato help

The Czech army health service also said on Thursday that it was investigating the death of a helicopter pilot from a blood disorder.

Prodi: DU weapons should be scrapped, if there is any risk
Prodi: DU weapons should be scrapped, if there is any risk
Mr Prodi said the commission must establish the truth not only about European soldiers, but also about the civilians living in affected areas.

He said: "I will propose immediate contacts be made with the governments of Bosnia and Serbia, to discuss with them the pollution and the problems linked to the depleted uranium."

The Italian defence ministry has acknowledged that no link had so far been found between depleted uranium munitions and the deaths of the six Italians, but said it had nevertheless urged Nato to stop using the projectiles.

Nato spokesman Mark Laity told the BBC on Thursday that the alliance would not launch an investigation itself, but would provide any information requested.

"Nato's position is that we are going to help the Italians in every way we can," he said.

"They have asked for information and we are now trying to find it."

No guidelines

Italian politicians have claimed that US troops went to the Balkans fully briefed on how to protect themselves in areas where DU weapons had been used, whereas Italian soldiers did not.

nato soldier
Nato troops fear DU's effects
"Guidelines were issued to some people, but when they were issued, who they were issued to, and what they were is I think one of the things that is going to be sorted out," Mr Laity said.

He said Nato was also co-operating with studies by the United Nations Environment Programme into possible environmental contamination, but would be surprised if it they suggested there was a major environmental hazard.

The alliance's North Atlantic Council and its political committee are going to discuss the problem in the next few days.

Last week, Belgian Defence Minister Andre Flahaut called on all European Union defence ministers to examine the issue.

Gulf War syndrome

Finland and Spain have already begun looking into the matter.

us troops in desert
Gulf veterans believe they are at risk
The French defence minister, Alain Richard, on Thursday called on the United States to be more open about the matter, but said that there was no reason at the moment for the weapons to be withdrawn.

Nato has acknowledged that it did use some DU weapons in the Kosovo conflict, though little more than half the quantity the Belgrade authorities say were fired.

Depleted uranium is a heavy substance, 1.7 times as dense as lead, and used in armour-piercing munitions.

Many Gulf War veterans believe it is implicated in a range of medical problems they are suffering from, known collectively as Gulf War Syndrome.

Because of its ability to punch through armour, DU is prized as a highly effective anti-tank weapon.

In its natural state, it is only mildly radioactive, but on impact with a solid object it turns into a burning vapour.

The US Defence Department and the UK Ministry of Defence accept that the resulting dust can be dangerous, and say troops entering vehicles hit by DU weapons need to take precautions.

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Europe
Q&A: Depleted uranium weapons
04 Jan 01 | Media reports
Uranium scare - what they said
04 Sep 00 | Health
Uranium 'threat' to Gulf veterans
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