BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Chiaka Nwosu
"A time of mounting anger in Zagreb"
 real 56k

The BBC's David Willey
"Carla del Ponte said new facts had come to light"
 real 28k

Sunday, 14 January, 2001, 22:01 GMT
War crimes tribunal may probe DU
Tests for DU contamination
The extent of contamination is being assessed
Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte says her tribunal could open an investigation into Nato's use of weapons containing depleted uranium.

Uranium-tipped ammunition has been blamed for cases of cancer among peacekeeping soldiers, Nato troops and civilians.

If results emerge directly linking the use of depleted uranium ammunition with health problems... we will proceed immediately

Carla del Ponte
Speaking to the Italian press, Mrs del Ponte said she had unsuccessfully examined similar allegations during the bombing of Kosovo, but new facts had now emerged.

She gave no details, saying she would await the results of scientific studies being carried out by the European Union and several of its member countries.

Seven Italians, five Belgians, two Dutch nationals, two Spaniards, a Portuguese and a Czech national have died after serving in the Balkans. Four French soldiers have also contracted leukaemia.

"If coherent results emerge directly linking the use of depleted uranium ammunition with health problems suffered by soldiers and civilians, we will proceed immediately," Mrs del Ponte told the newspaper la Repubblica.

However, correspondents say it is doubtful that the tribunal could prosecute unless it emerged that depleted uranium had been deliberately used to cause cancer.

It would therefore be classed as a prohibited chemical weapon - rather than as a means of enhancing the amour-piercing performance of shells.

DU risks

Nato, which used depleted uranium weapons in the Balkans, insists there is no evidence linking their use with higher incidences of cancer and leukaemia.

Yugoslav tanks in Kosovo, March 1999
Nato targeted Yugoslav tanks with DU-tipped weapons
But the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Gro Harlem Brundtland, told the BBC that she could not rule out the possibility of a link, and said more research was needed.

On Sunday, Britain conceded that there was a "limited risk", but repeated that there was no proven link between DU and any illness.

But following the deaths from leukaemia of at least seven of its Balkan veterans, Italy has asked Nato to start an an investigation.

More research needed

Several other EU countries have also started their own inquiries, and the European Commission has set up a working group of medical and scientific experts that is due to report next month.

GSF lab
A researcher tests for the effects of DU
On Friday, the German Government said it could not establish a link between possible DU contamination and a blood related illness suffered by six German soldiers.

But a study commissioned by the German Ministry of Defence warned that steps should be taken to prevent potential danger to the local population, particularly children, who may play in areas where DU weapons exploded, releasing toxic chemicals.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Key stories



See also:

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories