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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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Friday, 5 January, 2001, 02:58 GMT
US denies risk to soldiers
Map showing cases
The US Defence Department has denied Nato peacekeepers in the Balkans are at risk from exposure to depleted uranium shells, despite increasing concerns in Europe.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said the US military had carried out extensive studies into the use of the weapons during the Gulf War, and had found no evidence of a cancer or other health risk.

We are going to help the Italians in every way we can

Nato spokesman Mark Laity
On Thursday, the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, said he wanted to know the truth about the weapons and called for them to be banned if there was any risk.

Six Italian soldiers who had been on peace missions to the former Yugoslavia have died of leukaemia, while France says four of its soldiers are being treated for the illness.

The BBC has discovered that a former British Army engineer, Kevin Rudland, is also suffering from symptoms of what is being referred to as Balkan War Syndrome.

Mr Rudland has lost his hair, suffers from chronic fatigue and has severe bowel problems after apparently coming into contact with depleted uranium dust while serving in Bosnia.

'Test results due'

Mr Bacon said the US would assist its European allies in exploring their concerns, and the issue was due to be raised at a Nato meeting next week.

The Pentagon has been investigating the issue since the 1991 Gulf War, when such weapons were used in combat for the first time.
Kenneth Bacon
Kenneth Bacon: 'US will assist with inquiries'

Last year the UN sent a team of experts to Kosovo, where depleted uranium munitions were fired by US Air Force A-10 aircraft in missions against Serb armored vehicles.

Mr Bacon said the team took soil and water samples that are now being evaluated by five laboratories, with the results expected in the spring.

Spate of deaths

As well as cases in Italy and France, five soldiers have died in Belgium and one in Portugal.

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

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."
Prodi: DU weapons should be scrapped, if there is any risk
Prodi: DU weapons should be scrapped, if there is any risk

The Italian defence ministry has acknowledged that no link had so far been found, but said it had nevertheless urged Nato to stop using the projectiles.

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

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

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

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.

Gulf War syndrome

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

Finland and Spain have already begun looking into the matter.

us troops in desert
Gulf veterans believe they are at risk
Nato has acknowledged it did use some depleted uranium 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.

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Media reports
Uranium scare - what they said
04 Sep 00 | Health
Uranium 'threat' to Gulf veterans
04 Jan 01 | Europe
EU presses Nato over uranium arms
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