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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 11:52 GMT
Kosovo doctors play down uranium scare
Portuguese soldier at work in Kosovo
Nato soldiers are measuring radiation levels
Doctors in Kosovo have told World Health Organisation (WHO) staff that there has been no increase in leukaemia cases in the province since the conflict there in 1999.

The report comes as some Nato member countries are attempting to establish whether illness suffered by soldiers who served in Kosovo is linked to exposure to the depleted uranium used in some weapons.

But some experts have warned that leukaemia may take several years to develop following exposure to radiation.

There has been no full scientific investigation into leukaemia rates in Kosovo since the conflict.

Bombed building in Novi Sad
Nato missiles incorporated depleted uranium
In the recent informal survey, WHO officials simply asked doctors in the province to provide information about leukaemia cases from 1997 to the end of last year.

They found leukaemia cases among Kosovo civilians dropped slightly last year.

The information was needed by UN staff to set priorities in rebuilding Kosovo's health system.

Symptoms take years

The UK National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) says it is too early for radiation received by civilians or peacekeepers in Kosovo to be causing disease.

The NRPB's spokesman, Dr Mike Clark, says it is well known that radiation exposure can cause leukaemia.

But in the case of survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs during World War II, it took about five years for the first cases of radiation-related leukaemia to appear.

Dr Clark says that while enough time may have passed for people exposed to depleted uranium in Bosnia to be showing any signs of radiation illness, it is too soon for the same to be said of Kosovo.

Dr Clark says the forthcoming screening programmes planned by governments in Europe should take into account other possible factors.

Leukaemia is believed to have a number of triggers, including viral infections and chemical toxins.

While he could not rule out depleted uranium as a factor in the recent deaths and illnesses among Balkans peacekeepers, the health problems that have collectively been dubbed "Balkans syndrome" may have more than one cause.

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