CAMPAIGN TO BAN WEAPONS: SOLDIERS, DOCTORS TESTIFY ON EFFECTS OF DU
By Paddy Colligan
People from a dozen countries attending a March 1-2 conference here grappled with how to organize cooperatively to stop the Pentagon and NATO from using depleted-uranium weapons.
The Belgium-based Coalition for the Abolition of Depleted Uranium brought together victims of depleted uranium, anti- war activists and researchers for two days of working meetings and a public presentation to 500 people at the Free University of Brussels.
Participants agreed to continue working together to stop DU use.
Western Europe's corporate media have publicized the possibility of danger from DU over the last few months as alarming numbers of young, previously healthy NATO soldiers from European countries occupying Kosovo have come home from Kosovo with leukemia and other fatal health problems.
So far, there has been no publicity indicating that a similar epidemic might exist among U.S. Balkans veterans. European participants at the conference noted, however, that U.S. troops have been assigned to areas with little DU contamination.
Recently, demonstrators in Greece, Portugal, Italy and other European countries have demanded that soldiers be brought back from Kosovo and not replaced. Greek anti-DU activists, backed by a broad working-class movement that almost unanimously opposed the nearby NATO war in 1999, have brought home about a quarter of the Greek soldiers stationed in Kosovo.
The basic effects of depleted uranium--a radioactive and toxic substance--are known. Much still needs to be learned about how DU works when combined with other factors, including the age of those exposed and the presence of other toxins.
Instead of investigating these potential threats, the U.S./NATO military authorities refuse to acknowledge DU's role in the illnesses of Gulf and Balkans veterans. They have done everything possible to keep a lid on the outrage about the use of DU weapons.
They have consistently stonewalled, administering the wrong tests, losing records, and using all kinds of bureaucratic methods to be sure no connection is made between these illnesses and DU.
SOLDIERS, DOCTORS TESTIFY
The conference focused mainly on hearing from military victims of DU. They came from England, Yugoslavia, France, Belgium, Spain and other countries. Despite physical and psychological pain, they came to help others understand the horrors of DU.
Patricia Rodriguez, a young woman from Seville, Spain, recently lost her boyfriend, who had served in Kosovo, when he died from a rapidly progressing form of leukemia. She said: "I do this to let the other Spanish soldiers know what they are getting into. They can make their own choice--it's their life, but they should know."
She was astounded to learn that the U.S. military knew the effects of DU before using it.
Gena Mertens, a young German doctor with International Physicians against Nuclear War, is working on a standard operating procedure for diagnosing depleted-uranium exposure. Fifty ailing Balkans veterans have already contacted her, volunteering to be part of a database of DU victims that she is assembling.
Developing an accurate physical examination to detect the presence and effects of DU exposure will be a way to call the bluff of the U.S./NATO medical and military authorities.
Aws Albaiti, an Iraqi physician who worked in Baghdad from 1990 to 1999, has seen many medical problems caused by DU exposure. He pointed out, "Your victims are adults; ours are adults and children."
Iraqi children, he said, have experienced a 12-fold increase in leukemia and lymphomas. The increase among adults has been five- to six-fold.
The U.S./United Nations sanctions against Iraq have prevented that country from importing medicine and food that could have saved lives and alleviated pain.
Albaiti questioned the timing of the interest in DU. "Iraqis have been suffering since 1991," he said. "We said it was used in the war. Now you hear about DU. ... All Iraqi people are asking if this is a form of discrimination."
A doctor and a victim of DU who were invited from Iraq were denied visas by the Belgian government. Dr. Albaiti was already in Europe receiving training.
Dr. Dragutin Ilic reported on cancer statistics in the hospital in Sarajevo, Bosnia, where he works. In 1995-2000, the the number of cancer cases, particularly leukemia and lymphoma, treated in this hospital increased many times over.
U.S./NATO planes that attacked Bosnia in 1995 used DU shells.
A Serbian researcher said there is a public health disaster in Kosovo waiting to happen. DU was first used there two years ago. The people in the NATO-occupied territory have been told nothing about the contamination of the water and ground.
In contaminated areas of Serbia outside of Kosovo, the Yugoslav government educated the population about DU's hazards and is taking precautions.
A representative from the U.S.-based International Action Center said there is no contradiction between defending the rights of the civilian victims of DU and defending the rights of the rank-and-file soldiers who are also victims. These soldiers are the sons and daughters of the working class and should not become cannon fodder in imperialist wars.
Other speakers pointed out that the United States used DU weapons during wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia, and in test bombings of Vieques in Puerto Rico, south Korea and Okinawa.
DU weapons are now produced in several countries and are used by many armies. Their manufacture and export is very profitable to U.S. corporations.
The organizations present agreed that there should be a total ban on depleted uranium weapons. They also demanded that NATO and the United States pay for the cleanup of DU and for the medical needs of the military victims and the people still living in the countries left with this environmental and medical time bomb.
Participants agreed to use the Internet to share the latest medical and scientific findings, research on the arms industry, and leaflets and pamphlets to explain DU in lay terms for more effective organizing around this issue. They also decided to organize missions of investigation and solidarity with soldiers, celebrities, doctors and professionals next September, and to meet again in Brussels in December.
The writer represented the International Action Center at the Brussels DU conference.
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