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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 14:30 GMT
Kosovans 'unaware' of DU dangers
K-For soldiers
K-For dressed in full protective gear perplex local civilians
By Jacky Rowland and Nick Wood in Kosovo

While UN peacekeeping troops in Kosovo are testing for radiation from depleted uranium, the local population seems unaware of the potential risks.


I think there is no real risk

Bernard Kouchner
For the last 18 months Albanian children have been playing on bombsites strewn with the debris of tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

But as controversy over the risks of depleted uranium grows, Italian and Portuguese K-For soldiers, wearing masks and white overalls and carrying Geiger counters, have been scanning the bombsites for radiation.

Speaking from the bombsite, the head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said troops found no proof of any radioactivity, and there was no immediate reason to seal off the site.

Bernard Kouchner
Bernard Kouchner plays down risks
"Risk exists, but in my humble experience as a health minister for 10 years, I think there is no real risk," he said.

But for the civilian population, his arrival was the first indication that the bomb site could be a risk to their health.

His announcement also contradicts the recommendations of a UN panel of experts, which recommended in October that all Nato targets should be sealed off from public access until more is known about DU and its impact on health.

Leukaemia fears

Elsewhere, British soldiers have been testing the ruins of a Yugoslav army barracks for radiation, while just metres away three Kosovo Albanians salvaged bricks from a destroyed building.

Portuguese scientists
Portuguese scientists say only a low level of radiation has been detected
Nobody knows for sure whether the earth contains toxic dust from the depleted uranium missiles that destroyed the buildings.

A team of scientists from Portugal has been trying to find out if there is any link between the use of depleted uranium and cases of leukaemia among former peacekeepers.

They have collected samples of soil, water and urine to take away and analyse.

"I hope that there is no uranium in these samples so that the food, the water and the air we breathe are completely free of uranium," said the Portuguese science minister, Mariano Gago, who has been visiting Kosovo.

UN officials have said the level of leukaemia has remained constant in the province since the end of the war.

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

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