NATO bombing unleashes environmental catastrophe on Europe

May 14, 1999

Spokespeople for the International Action Center announced in New York today that their group was taking actions to document NATO’s bombing as a war crime against the environment of the Balkans and Europe especially in light of the Pentagon’s recent admission it was using depleted uranium weapons against Yugoslavia.

The Pentagon and other NATO armed forces use the extremely dense depleted-uranium to reinforce large-caliber bullets and shells. This element increases the shells’ ability to penetrate armor, but it leaves toxic and radioactive particles of uranium oxide that endanger humans and pollute the environment.

IAC co-director Sara Flounders was heading to Yugoslavia May 14 to investigate and bring back first-hand evidence and documentation involving NATO’s use of DU weapons and its attacks on chemical and pharmaceutical plants, plastics factories, refineries and other targets. This bombing creates environmental devastation that will impact on millions of people and for generations to come.

The delegation will be led by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who traveled to Yugoslavia in the first week of the bombing with videographer Gloria La Riva, whose videos on Iraq have won international awards. La Riva is currently working on a video on NATO’s war on Yugoslavia. Jeremy Scahill of Pacifica Radio’s national program Democracy Now, also part of the delegation, will provide daily news coverage on NATO bombing targets. His coverage will particularly focus on the long-term environmental disaster that is unfolding.

Flounders is a co-editor of Metal of Dishonor: Depleted Uranium, a 1997 book exposing the dangers of DU-reinforced shells and its link with Gulf War Syndrome. Metal of Dishonor’s other co-editor, John Catalinotto, will be speaking at forums on Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands on May 15, and Bonn, Germany, on May 17 about these environmental issues and their link to NATO’s war against Yugoslavia.

These issues have gained importance due to the turmoil within the European Green parties whose leadership has abandoned its traditional pacifism and defense of the environment to support NATO’s war. This is especially seen in the German Greens, which form part of the current government. On May 13 in Bielefeld, Germany, rank-and-file Greens at a party congress were accusing their leader—current German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer—of betrayal and demanding an immediate end to NATO bombing.

Flounders discussed the NATO strikes that did the most damage to the environment. "NATO planes bombed the pharmaceutical complex in Galenika, the largest medicine factory in Yugoslavia. This attack on a vital civilian target released dangerous, highly toxic fumes immediately, and will undermine the ability to provide medicine in the future.

"On April 15, NATO forces bombed plants of the petrochemical complex in Pancevo, directly hitting installations and equipment of the Vinyl Chloride Monomer plant and Ethylene plant and damaging others. According to a report from the plant’s director, Dr. Slobodan Tresac, fire broke out and huge quantities of chlorine, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomer flowed out. Workers at Pancevo, fearing further bombing attacks that would blow up dangerous materials, released tons of ethylene dichloride, a carcinogen, into the Danube.

"That same night, NATO also hit the Ammonia and Power Supply divisions of HIP-AZOTARA Fertilizer Company and completely destroyed them, also in Pancevo.

"In a May 7 news release, the Worldwide Fund for Nature warned that an environmental crisis is looming in the lower Danube river and the Black Sea due mainly to oil slicks. The river is a source of drinking water for 10 million people.

"Of course NATO bombing is also the cause of immediate human suffering in Yugoslavia," said Flounders, "but we don’t want to neglect its long-term criminal impact on the environment.

"In an open letter from Belgrade, the Yugoslav minister of agriculture, Nedelijko Sipovac, wrote in early May that these bombings have caused ecological catastrophe ‘not only on the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia but on the territories of all Balkan, Danube basin, Mediterranean and European countries as well.’ Sipovac noted an increase in radioactivity which he attributed to the use of depleted uranium bullets."

Catalinotto said Pentagon spokesperson Major-General Chuck Wald finally admitted to BBC news on May 7 that its A-10 "Warthog" planes were firing depleted uranium ammunition. "These planes fired almost a million 30 millimeter DU rounds during the 1991 war against Iraq," he said.

"DU is one important aspect of a looming environmental disaster for the region," Catalinotto added, "that will harm all the different nationalities of the former Yugoslavia and could spill over into Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak republics.

"The environmental arrogance of the NATO generals exposes their original ‘humanitarian’ excuse for starting to bomb Yugoslavia as a fraud," he said. "They are making the whole region unfit for human habitation. And they will wind up poisoning their own soldiers as they did with Agent Orange in Vietnam and with DU in Iraq.

"We in the International Action Center will spread this message far and wide in Europe and North America and expose anyone who defends NATO’s war as a killer of the environment. We hope this will bring the Greens where they belong, side by side with anti-war forces that demand NATO end the bombing and get out."

The IAC is part of a coalition of anti-war organizations in the United States who are organizing a national demonstration expected to bring tens of thousands of people to the Pentagon in Wshington DC to protest the war on Saturday, June 5.

The second edition of Metal of Dishonor was just released. Since the first edition came out in 1997, this issue has gained international attention and the book has been translated into Arabic and Japanese editions. --30--


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