Nato admits it used DU in Kosovo

GENEVA, Mar 22, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO has admitted using depleted uranium weapons in Kosovo, exposing civilians, its own troops and aid workers to health hazards, a U.N. expert said on Tuesday.

But Pekka Haavisto, head of the U.N. Balkan environment task force investigating the use of munitions during the 70-day war, said NATO was still holding back crucial data on where and how it used depleted uranium weapons, which can contaminate land and water sources with radioactive and toxic particles.

The former Finnish environment minister said NATO's confirmation of its use of depleted uranium came in a letter from the Western military alliance's Secretary-General George Robertson to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In its letter, Haavisto said NATO disclosed having used 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition during some 100 missions throughout Kosovo by U.S. A-10 aircraft.

"It was really the Americans who were using depleted uranium in NATO," Haavisto said. "The question we now have today is whether it was also used in Serbia and Montenegro and other areas."

Haavisto accused the alliance of obstructing his team's work late last year by refusing to cooperate to help determine the extent of pollution caused by such weapons.

Accompanying the letter was a NATO map with areas marked where NATO said it had used depleted uranium weapons. Shells are tipped with depleted uranium to help them penetrate the thick armour of military vehicles or underground bunkers.

The marked areas were concentrated in Kosovo's west and southwest, close to the zones where Italian as well as German, Turkish and Dutch KFOR troops are based.

Depleted uranium-tipped weapons were used west of the Pec-Dakovica-Prizren highway, around the town of Klina, around Prizren and north of Suva Reka and Urosevac, Haavisto said.

"We can see from the map that depleted uranium was widely used in Kosovo. These were populated areas so the risks are greater," Haavisto said.

"Many missions using depleted uranium also took place outside these areas," he added. "If these types of weapons were used, people should have been protected and warned against the risks of toxication, especially children."


Haavisto said NATO information was not detailed enough for experts to do field assessment on health effects and measurements on possible contamination of land and ground water.

"The information provided by NATO and the map is not precise enough for a field assessment. We were not given the information we needed from NATO. We are in need of precise information on exact locations where depleted uranium was used," he said.

NATO officials were not immediately available for comment.

Haavisto said the use of depleted uranium in Kosovo was only one-tenth of that in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq - after which there was an epidemic of cancers among Iraqis living near battlefields.

U.S. and British veterans of the Gulf War with Iraq have also blamed serious health problems among them on the use of such weapons. The link is denied by U.S. and British military authorities.

Haavisto said the World Health Organisation had promised to report on the effects on health of medium and long-term exposure to depleted uranium in Kosovo in May.

But the U.N. health agency has yet to produce a similar and equally controversial report demanded by Iraq over two years ago on health effects of depleted uranium used during the Gulf War.

Original article