Exposed - The Deadly
DU Legacy Of US/NATO
Strikes In Kosovo
After insisting throughout its air bombardment of Yugoslavia that its use of depleted uranium munitions against Serb forces posed no hazard to human health, Nato officers in Kosovo now admit that particles from their shells may have contaminated soil near targets in Yugoslavia and could cause "inhalation" problems, especially for children.
There has been a growing outcry against munitions containing depleted uranium (DU) - a waste product of the nuclear industry - since it was used in armour-piercing projectiles in the 1991 Gulf war. In the eight years since, hundreds of Iraqis living near the battlefields have died from mysterious cancers and grossly deformed children have been born to Iraqi soldiers who fought in the war. British and American veterans suffering from Gulf war syndrome suspect that the use of DU weapons caused their own sickness and cancers.
In briefings to international aid workers in Pristina, one K-For officer has warned his audience of "contaminated dust" at the scene of DU munitions explosions and urged aid officials to stay 150 feet away from targets hit in Nato air strikes. But non-governmental organisations have been amazed to hear that Nato cannot - or will not - say where it used DU ordnance against Serb forces. "There is no releasable information about where it was used and when," a K-For spokesman told The Independent. He would give no reason for Nato's refusal to provide these details.
Officially, K-For warns aid workers to beware of all Kosovo battle sites - especially the danger posed by unexploded cluster bombs - but the records of one major aid organisation in Pristina show that on 13 and 20 August a K-For officer was twice asked by United Nations officials about the dangers of DU projectiles fired by American A-10 Warthog ground-attack aircraft. The officer - believed to have been British - spoke of "the danger of the spread of contaminated dust".
The Pentagon says that in the 1991 Gulf war, more than 860,000 DU rounds were fired by United States and - to a much lesser extent - British forces. In following years, doctors in southern Iraq were stunned to find an exponential increase in child cancers and deformities among families living near the old battlefields or close to targets hit by US forces. One Iraqi doctor's report in Basra last year recorded three babies born without heads in August along with four with abnormally large heads, six babies born with no heads in September and two with short limbs. In October 1998, another baby was born without a head and four with oversize heads.
Nor were DU munitions used in Kosovo only against armour, as Nato claimed. One aid worker found exploded DU rounds at a defence installation near Djakovica. "There were no vehicles there, but I found the tops of the rounds," he told me.