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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 14:42 GMT
Italy demands answers on DU
Italian troops
Italian Nato troops on the Kosovan border
By Ben Brown in Rome

To his parents, he was the perfect son. At 23 years old, Dalvatore Vaccha was fit, healthy and happy. Until he went to Bosnia, that is.

In 1999, he died from leukaemia, and his family suspect that the cause of his illness was depleted uranium.

"I'm very angry," said his mother. "If uranium was being used out there, then our young men should have been warned of the risks they might be taking."

Yugoslav tanks in Kosovo, March 1999
Nato targeted Yugoslav tanks with DU-tipped weapons
Italy was one of the first countries to start screening its Balkan peacekeepers for cancer. Other countries in Europe, including Britain, have now decided to follow the Italians' lead.

Some of the Italian soldiers still stationed in Bosnia are very worried.

"If they won't tell me the whole story, I want to be sent home because it isn't right to come here and risk my life," said one young Italian peacekeeper. "We came to protect, not to get a disease."

Hotline set up

The Italian army has set up a telephone hotline to offer advice and information to the worried relatives of soldiers.

They say the service is vital to calm the country's growing wave of panic.

"Mothers or wives are quite worried about their men," said Lieutenant Colonel Marco Centritto. "Their families here in Italy watch television and hear a lot about this problem of the depleted uranium. They want to know exactly what's going on."

The scare is getting saturation coverage in the Italian media.

Words not enough

Kosovo
Soldiers examine soil for contamination in Kosovo
A TV talk show on Monday night was called War on Uranium. It featured a young corporal, Valery Helis, who has had chemotherapy to fight off cancer.

He too served in the Balkans. After the show, he was comforted by one of his commanders. But to him, kind words are not enough.

"Precautions should have been taken, not only to protect soldiers like me, but also civilians who live in the Balkans," he said. "If it is the cause of my illness, this depleted uranium should never have been used at all."

With several peacekeepers killed by leukaemia and more seriously ill, it is no surprise that there is mounting alarm in Italy over the use of depleted uranium.

Some politicians are even calling for all Italian soldiers to be pulled out of the Balkans. Emotions are running extremely high and NATO cannot afford to ignore them.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Colin Blane in Brussels
"It is a potentially explosive issue"
Nato spokesman Mark Laity
"The risks are limited"

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | In Depth
08 Jan 01 | Europe
22 Mar 00 | Science/Nature
09 Jan 01 | Europe
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


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