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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 15:35 GMT
Uranium scare - what they said
Martins Barrento
The Portuguese army chief puts the scare down to a hoax
Politicians across Europe have reacted to the scare over radiation poisoning from depleted uranium-tipped shells used by Nato in the Balkans - the so-called Balkans war syndrome.

The case provoked a public row in Portugal, where the death of a young Kosovo veteran was recently linked to the syndrome.

Perhaps ironically, in Yugoslavia the government was treating with great caution public fears over the after-effects of uranium-tipped bombs dropped by Nato.

European Commission President Romano Prodi: "I want the truth to be ascertained, not just for our soldiers but also for those who were living alongside them, the civilians... If there is a risk, these weapons should be abolished."

Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato: "The matter is taking too serious a turn - the alarm is more than legitimate."

Italian Defence Minister Sergio Mattarella: "Operations setting out to defend people have to rule out consequences entailing hazards for their environment."

French Defence Minister Alain Richard: "We are calling on our American partners to be open on the subject."

Portuguese Armed Forces Chief of Staff Martins Barrento: "I believe this is a major hoax... There is obviously some sort of paranoia, and this paranoia was created by someone. This was a snowball issue."

Portuguese Defence Minister Julio Castro Caldas, reacting to Gen Barrento's comments: "I would like to quote Winston Churchill when I say that war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men."

Austrian Defence Ministry spokesman, unnamed: "I do not believe one can establish a connection between the uranium ammunition used and the cases of leukaemia... However, anything is possible."

Yugoslav Deputy Environment Minister Dragan Veselinovic: "For this [radiation poisoning] to happen, the uranium concentration needs to be very high. As for now, we are not quite certain that this is the case."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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