By Paddy Colligan
Brussels, Belgium

posted: 3/11/01

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.


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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