Saturday, November 6, 1999 Published at 12:40 GMT
Fresh calls for Gulf War Syndrome inquiry
Four medical inquiries are taking place into Gulf War Syndrome
The British Legion is renewing calls for a public inquiry into so-called Gulf War Syndrome, despite ongoing government medical studies into the issue.
The Legion wants an inquiry to establish why some 3,000 servicemen became ill after the war in 1991 with Iraq, and why so little was done to help them.
But the Ministry of Defence said it was keen to concentrate on four medical investigations into the problems and did not want to be distracted by having to prepare evidence for an inquiry.
"The immediate concern is for those who are ill, nearly 3,000, and some 30 have died already," he said.
"We are very concerned that the programmes to look at the cause of the illnesses that stem from their service in the Gulf War have not been pursued vigorously."
He said that in the early stages, politicians and officials had not been willing to accept there was a problem, and progress was still too slow.
"Certainly there were denials that there was a problem, there were denials about the use of organophosphates and certainly then, when there was some acceptance that people were falling ill, the tracing of medical records and the details of those records were just non-existent."
'Inquiry won't help'
But Armed Forces Minister John Spellar said a public inquiry was not the priority.
"Four scientific inquiries are working, and also liaising with the Americans on their work to actually get to the bottom of these illnesses," said Mr Spellar.
"What we have got to do is focus on what the actual causes of the illness are. Going back to what breakdown there was in the initial stages might be of interest, but I'm not sure that it really helps the Gulf veterans."
He suggested an inquiry at some point in the future might be more appropriate.
In a separate move an organisation representing hundreds of veterans suffering from so-called Gulf War Syndrome announced it had cut its ties with the MoD after accusing officials of "leaving old soldiers to die".
The National Gulf Veterans and Families Association said the decision followed claims that it was not worth testing for the extent of radiation poisoning in veterans.
Meanwhile a Labour MP campaigning against United Nations sanctions has arrived in Iraq at the end of a two-month road trek on a London bus.
George Galloway was greeted at the border with Jordan by a large gathering of Iraqi deputies and trade union leaders.