Protests against DU grow in Europe

By John Catalinotto

17 Jan 2001--Despite denials by NATO and their governments that depleted uranium is a danger, people in Europe have reacted with growing anger and disquiet about this threat to soldiers and civilians in occupied Kosovo.

In some European countries—Greece, Portugal and Italy especially—parties and other groups have already begun to organize strong protest movements against DU weapons.  

Anger and confusion has grown as NATO and government spokespeople contradict earlier statements about the dangers of DU. For example, NATO now admits U.S. planes fired 10,800 DU shells into Bosnia in 1995-1996. But in 1997 Lt. Cmdr. Garneau, a spokesperson for the SFOR occupation forces, said “at no time did NATO use depleted uranium munitions during air strikes in Bosnia.”  

This was one of many lies that has destroyed NATO’s credibility, and for good reason.

In addition, the European mainstream media is reflecting differences among the NATO powers that include DU use but go beyond this to other areas of contention within the imperialist alliance. For example, in the single Jan. 12 issue of Le Monde, there was more than a page of the dangers of DU. But there were also two pages of the debate within NATO over the presence of U.S. troops and other strategic goals.

Seven Italian troops, five Belgians, two Dutch nationals, two Spaniards, a Portuguese and a Czech national have died after taking part in the occupation of Balkan countries. Four French soldiers also have contracted leukemia. The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reports that a Hungarian soldier has also died of leukemia and that his wife is demanding financial compensation from the Hungarian Ministry of Defense.

Subhead: Greek troops want out

The Daily Telegraph in England reported Jan. 15 that over a quarter of the 1400-plus Greek troops stationed in Kosovo have asked to leave because of the increased risk of cancer. The Greek defense minister had to say that the government would consider the requests, but “we must first wait for the official results of the radiation tests. If there is a general problem then NATO forces will take a joint decision and leave together.”

Half of the 400 volunteers set to join the Greek contingent have now withdrawn their requests to take part in the occupation of Kosovo. On Jan. 11, the Greek Communist Party called out thousands of protesters in Athens, Thessalonika, Patra, Serres, Chio and Verioia to protest NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia and to demand that Greek soldiers be pulled out of Kosovo.

The Portuguese Communist Party called for a national day of protest for Jan. 25 with a meeting in front of the prime minister’s residence to demand an end to the Portuguese military presence in the Balkans. The PCP also is “against the dispatch of any more troops to Kosovo; for solidarity with the populations affected by NATO bombings; and for NATO being abolished.

The PCP is a mass party with 130,000 members that took a strong stand against NATO aggression against Yugoslavia during the 1999 war.

In Rome on Jan. 13 the Italian section of the Ramsey Clark Tribunal, which includes supporters from the Pasti Foundation and the Communist Rifundazione Party, held a protest meeting over the use of DU. This group is protesting the dangers to Italian soldiers but also to the civilian population of Yugoslavia. It organized hearings of popular war crimes tribunals against NATO following the aggression against Yugoslavia.

Stories about DU are now daily items in the Italian press and electronic media. This coverage has also come—perhaps to a lesser degree—throughout all of Western Europe.  

In France, the veterans group Avigolfe has forced the Defense Minister Alain Richard to reverse some of his statements about DU. In effect he had to admit he had been lying.

In Spain, the Committee in Solidarity with the Arab Cause has held a conference in November and more recent meetings exposing the dangers of DU.

Subhead: How Yugoslavs, Iraqis see DU

While the deaths of NATO soldiers have attracted media attention, the greater number of DU victims come from the local civilian population of Bosnia and Kosovo.

In a Jan. 13 article in the British daily The Independent, Robert Fisk wrote of the town Hadjici, where he asserts that “up to 300 out of 5,000 Serb refugees whose suburb of Sarajevo was heavily bombed by NATO jets in the late summer of 1995 have died of cancer. ...”

“All the surviving refugees of Hadjici ... believe that the concers and leukemias that have affected this population were caused because the U.S. A-10 bombers that struck their factories were firing depleted-uranium weapons.”

Snezana Pavlovic is head of the Environmental Monitoring Group from the Institute of Nuclear Sciences “Vinca,” radiation protection department in Serbia. In an Jan. 16 interview for the Berlin daily Junge Welt, she said, “NATO is denying the danger, using as a foundation for this denial the fact that it is indeed hard to prove direct connection between consequences for human health and depleted uranium on a small population.”  

But she says “if one concrete person in his or her life is shown to have been exposed to radiation, and gets a illness due to malignancy, radiation must be considered its cause, because of all cancer-inducing factors radiation is the most dominant one.”

A standard rule by the International Agency for Atomic Energy, said Pavlovic, “is that radiation mustn’t be used if the damage is bigger than the gain. And no one can prove any gain from DU bombing, for any Kosovo inhabitant, be they Serb or Albanian.”

Pavlovic said that contamination in Serbia itself is low and concentrated, because few metal targets were hit and because the Yugoslav army and Vinca cooperated to monitor and remove the contamination. In Kosovo, however, KFOR occupation forces carried out no similar decontamination effort, and the people and environment there are both at risk.

Iraqi scientists, isolated by the murderous sanctions for the last 10 years, have begun to break into the media with their studies on increased leukemia and other cancers in the areas of Iraq hit hardest by U.S.-fired DU during the 1991 war. A paper included in a conference last Nov. 25-26 in Gijon, Spain, presents a detailed report of the increases in these diseases.

The International Action Center’s “Sanctions Challenge IV,” now in Iraq, plans to bring back further information about the diseases believed to be caused by depleted uranium. The Iraqis are undoubtedly the hardest hit population. The IAC will demand that Western countries allow Iraqi scientists to visit and present their findings on DU, which is not now allowed.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is leading the “Sanctions Challenge” to Iraq and researcher Damacio Lopez from New Mexico have gone to the area south of Basra in Iraq where Iraqi tanks were hit during the 1991 war. They plan to get samples of the soil in that area. Lopez will bring the samples to Europe to test for radioactivity.

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