Uranium shells no hazard in Kosovo - Pentagon

WASHINGTON, Mar 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) The Pentagon said on Wednesday it was not hiding information on the use of depleted uranium bullets by U.S. attack jets in NATO's air war against Serbia and that, in any case, the 31,000 rounds did not present a significant health hazard.

Pentagon officials were responding to questions about a report released in Geneva on Tuesday by a U.N. Balkan environmental task force, which said NATO had admitted using the 31,000 rounds of ammunition, but that maps pinpointing their use were not detailed enough.

"The information (on the shells) is now out there from NATO to the best of our knowledge. It is our best estimate of where the stuff was used," said Air Force Lt. Col. Vic Warzinski, a U.S. Defence Department spokesman.

Another Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Steve Campbell, told Reuters U.S. scientific studies indicated there was no significant threat to health or the environment from remains of the dense, heavy metal shells used last spring by Air Force A-10 fighters to destroy Serbian tanks and armoured cars.

"We don't believe they are environmentally harmful, nor do they present a significant impact on health," Campbell said.

Some experts believe particles and dust from the shells can contaminate land and water sources with toxic, radioactive particles.

The U.N. group released a letter from NATO Secretary-General George Robertson to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan which said the ammunition was used by U.S. attack jets in some 100 missions throughout Kosovo.

A map released with the letter included marked areas in Kosovo's west and southwest west of the Pec-Dakovica-Prizren highway, around the town of Klina, around Prizren and north of Suva Reka and Urosevac.

Warzinski said the low-flying A-10s attack jets, employed late in the 10-week air war, chiefly use two kinds of shells - extremely dense DU (depleted uranium) rounds to pierce steel armour like eggshells, and high-incendiary bullets.

U.S. and NATO military officials have in the past been reluctant to provide specifics on the number and types of bombs and other weaponry used in the air war for operational reasons. The Pentagon officials said the alliance had responded to a specific request from Annan on the DU shells.

"We welcome the work that the U.N. environmental group is doing," Warzinski said. "We believe there are still plenty of environmental hazards in Kosovo, including land mines and unexploded ordnance (bombs and cluster bomblets)," he added.

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