AFTER DU KILLS NATO SOLDIERS: PENTAGON'S TOXIC  DAMAGE OF BALKANS EXPOSED

By John Catalinotto

A storm of protest in Europe has ended the period when  governments and the media alike ignored or played down the  threat to soldiers and civilians from pollution by  radioactive and toxic depleted-uranium shells. By Jan. 8,  deaths of European occupation troops in the Balkans had  raised DU to a major issue dividing the NATO countries.

This increased attention has encouraged groups fighting DU  use to renew their call for an international ban on these  dangerous weapons. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark  and the International Action Center, which have played a  leading role in the struggle against DU in the United  States, have long demanded a complete ban.

Now elected officials within some European governments have  picked up the call. German and Italy have officially called  for a moratorium on DU use and brought the discussion to  NATO. Amid growing public pressure, the British government  reversed itself and offered medical tests to any troops who  request them.

The Portuguese government has begun to investigate polluted  areas of Kosovo, the Yugoslavian province occupied by NATO  troops. U.S. forces used DU weapons extensively there during  the 1999 bombing war against Yugoslavia.

The French government has complained about U.S. procedures.  In Italy, where 12 Balkans veterans have cancer and five  have died of leukemia, a storm of public outrage has sparked  government demands that DU be banned.

In France, four soldiers are being treated for leukemia. One  Portuguese soldier has been diagnosed with cancer since  returning from Kosovo. Spain has begun examining 32,000  troops who were in Bosnia or Kosovo.

The French veterans' group Avigolfe forced Defense Minister  Alain Richard to admit his lies in covering up about DU.

Outgoing United Nations Administrator in Kosovo Bernard  Kouchner made a "urgent appeal" to the World Health  Organization to send public-health experts to monitor the  possible health risks.

CIVILIAN POPULATION THREATENED

With such turmoil in Europe over the danger to occupation  troops, it is both inevitable and necessary that two other  questions be raised.

The first is: What damage has been done to the civilian  population in the regions involved? The soldiers can easily  leave and go home. The inhabitants of Bosnia and Kosovo are  under permanent threat.

The civilian population most under DU threat is that of  southern Iraq, where about 60 times more DU waste was left  after the Gulf War. There the population has suffered three-  to six-fold increases in many cancers, as was revealed by a  Basra University study presented to a symposium in Gijon,  Spain, last November.

The second question is: What about health problems among  U.S. troops stationed in Bosnia and Kosovo? So far there  have been no similar reports of leukemia deaths or illnesses  as there were after the Gulf War. But as news of European  fear spreads to the U.S. media, as it had begun to do by  Jan. 8, U.S. veterans who have been ill will begin to come  forward.

While the Pentagon and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright  have denied there is any serious danger from DU weapon use,  NATO's own warnings to troops in Kosovo contradict these  claims. The military considered DU shells something to be  handled with care.

Besides the IAC, the Spanish Committee in Solidarity with  the Arab Cause--which organized the Gijon symposium--along  with the Pasti Foundation and others in Italy have begun to  reach out to the population to build support for an  international ban.

Ramsey Clark is about to lead the IAC's fourth Iraq  Sanctions Challenge to bring solidarity and medical aid to  that embattled country. This trip, which will bring 50  people from the United States and six other countries to  Baghdad on Jan. 13, will also conduct an investigation of DU- related problems in Iraq.

The Challenge participants include Damacio Lopez, a New  Mexico activist who has written extensively on DU since the  early 1990s, and IAC Co-director Sara Flounders, who co- edited the book "Metal of Dishonor: How the Pentagon  Radiates Soldiers and Civilians with Depleted Uranium  Weapons."

Flounders told Workers World: "The Sanctions Challenge will  perform a service by interviewing Iraqi scientists and  doctors who have investigated DU's impact on the Iraqi  population. The sanctions have isolated these scientists  from their colleagues around the world, prevented them from  obtaining the proper equipment and stopped them from  publishing their results internationally.

"Washington is responsible for enormous suffering in Iraq  and should be made to pay for the cleanup and care of the  population.

"The Pentagon left 600,000 pounds of DU in the Gulf region,  and smaller but still large amounts of DU in Bosnia, Kosovo  and other parts of Serbia," she said. "They left it in armor- penetrating shells, land mines, in 'smart bombs' and other  munitions."

"The first step," Flounders said, "is to bring out the  truth. This will also help the people of the Balkans and the  troops who served there."

Flounders also said that Palestinian organizations had  demanded an investigation of possible Israeli use of DU to  repress the Intifada that started last Sept. 28. The IAC  first raised this issue in November.

Balkans: No To
NATO Expansion

WHAT IS DEPLETED URANIUM? READ METAL OF DISHONOR TO SEE  WHAT IS BEHIND THE HEADLINES

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