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