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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 15:10 GMT
Nato denies Balkan syndrome
Portuguese experts in Sarajevo
Portuguese experts found no radioactivity at a Sarajevo barracks
The chairman of Nato's top medical committee said on Tuesday there is no evidence that depleted uranium munitions cause cancer, and no sign of any pattern of "Balkan syndrome" illnesses.

A causal link cannot be identified between depleted uranium and the complaints or pathologies

General Van Hoof
"We cannot identify any increase in disease or mortality in soldiers who have deployed to the Balkans as compared to those soldiers who have not deployed," said General Roger Van Hoof, after a day-long meeting with the alliance's 18 medical officers on Monday.

"On the evidence available, a causal link cannot be identified between depleted uranium and the complaints or pathologies," General Van Hoof said in a news conference at Nato headquarters.

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, but the French defence ministry says they have tested negative for depleted uranium in their urine.

The World Health Organisation says "uncertainties remain", and several Nato member states have launched their own investigations into the matter.

Safe levels

General Van Hoof also said there was no evidence that soldiers had been exposed to depleted uranium beyond safe levels.

Bosnian experts have also been carrying out tests near Sarajevo
Bosnian experts have also been carrying out tests near Sarajevo
These preliminary findings are to be presented to Nato's newly created Ad Hoc Committee on Depleted Uranium, which is due to meet later on Tuesday.

General Van Hoof said the medical officers were recommending organised studies to determine if the health of Balkan peacekeepers was different from that of other soldiers.

Spain has followed Portugal, the UK and Germany in insisting there's nothing so far to link cancer among peacekeeping troops, with the use of armour-piercing shells containing depleted uranium.

Spanish Defence Minister Frederico Trillo said nothing unusually radioactive nor toxic had been found in more than 3,000 health tests which had been carried out.

Balkans syndrome does not exist, because soldiers who became ill... have not shown similar symptoms, which is precisely what characterises a syndrome

Spanish Defence Minister Federico Trillo
However, he said Spain would set up a committee of medical experts to conduct a comparative study on the health of a group of civilians and a group of soldiers who served in the Balkans.

Nato has meanwhile given Italy maps showing where depleted uranium weapons were used in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The weapons have also been used in Kosovo, and in the Gulf War against Iraq 10 years ago.

Portuguese tests

Scientists from Lisbon's Institute of Nuclear Technology searched for radioactivity at Portuguese-occupied barracks in Visoko, 30km from Sarajevo.

The head of the team, Fernando Carvalho, told Portugese television: "We were expecting to find some traces of it, but until now all the screening carried out on the soldiers and vehicles from these barracks has been negative."

The European Commission has set up a working group of medical and scientific experts that is due to report next month.

Last week, 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.

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See also:

14 Jan 01 | Europe
War crimes tribunal may probe DU
15 Jan 01 | Middle East
Iraqi alarm over DU ammunition
15 Jan 01 | Health
Serb doctor's uranium warning
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