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UN finds radioactivity at NATO bomb sites in Kosovo

5 January 2001

Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations announced on Friday it had found evidence of radioactivity at eight of 11 sites tested in Kosovo after they were struck by NATO ammunition with depleted uranium during 1999 bombings.

The discovery of radioactivity at the sites was a preliminary finding of testing still under way at laboratories in Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Britain and Austria by the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP), a U.N. spokesman said.

"The final results will only be known when the UNEP report is published in 2001, but there is enough preliminary evidence to call for precautions when dealing with used depleted uranium or with sites where such ammunition might be present," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

NATO has come under increasing pressure from several European governments over claims that depleted uranium used in NATO weapons had caused death or illness among Balkan peacekeepers, a condition dubbed "Balkans Syndrome".

The condition came under the spotlight after reports that six Italian soldiers who served in the former Yugoslavia had developed leukaemia and died after exposure to spent ammunition.

Germany's TAZ daily reported in Berlin on Friday that the UNEP tests had found that the eight sites were in part "considerably contaminated."

Uranium dust as well as unexploded munitions had been discovered, the paper said in an advance release of a story due for publication on Saturday. The paper said it had obtained a copy of an interim UNEP report dated December 29, 2000.

A U.N. report in May had warned that much of Kosovo's water could be so contaminated as to be unfit to drink, and that a clean-up of the province could cost billions of dollars. It warned U.N. staff not to approach any target that might have been hit by a depleted uranium weapon.

U.S. attack jets fired some 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition against Serbian targets during NATO's 1999 campaign to drive the Yugoslav army out of Kosovo. Some 10,000 rounds were also fired in neighbouring Bosnia in 1994-5.

The 11 sites tested by the UNEP team were among 112 in Kosovo hit by weapons containing depleted uranium according to a NATO map. The UNEP considers that the 11 sites tested are representative of all 112 and wants them all cordoned off, the German paper said.

The UNEP report also recommended that health checks be carried out on residents of the immediate area.

Depleted uranium is used in the tips of missiles, shells and bullets to increase their ability to penetrate armour and can be pulverised on impact into a toxic radioactive dust, defence experts say.

The U.N. spokesman said the U.N. team had taken 340 samples of soil, water and vegetation at the 11 sites for analysis.

"Special attention is also being paid to the risks that uranium toxicity might pose to the ground water around the sites," Dujarric said


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