April 16 2000Ailing troops sue over Balkan war syndrome
SOLDIERS who served in the former Yugoslavia plan to sue the Ministry of Defence (MoD)after suffering chronic health problems they believe were caused by "Balkan war syndrome", writes Lois Rogers.
Doctors link their symptoms to exposure to depleted uranium in anti-tank missiles used during the Kosovo conflict. Research has shown that the heavy metal causes health problems leading to cancer, neurological and immune system defects and reproductive system damage.
Up to 10,500 Britons were sent to Kosovo to assist in peacekeeping missions and many were exposed to the fine, poisonous dust, which remains in the atmosphere and pollutes water supplies, after Nato's bombardment.
However, the MoD said: "We have done considerably more research into depleted uranium than other nations as it has been raised as a concern for a number of Gulf war veterans. We have seen no evidence to suggest it is the cause of any illness among them and we are not aware of any compensation claims from Kosovo veterans."
Twelve servicemen - 11 of whom are still serving - are preparing to sue. If the initial claims are successful, they could open the floodgates for a multi-million-pound group action which could deeply embarrass the government.
The MoD is still struggling to fend off claims by thousands of Gulf war veterans, who say they were made seriously ill by a hastily administered cocktail of vaccines in-tended to protect them from biological warfare agents.
Belgium, which had troops serving alongside British soldiers in Kosovo, has already begun a systematic review of the health of the 14,000 troops it sent to the region. Tests have identified cases of men suffering the effects of exposure to uranium - even though they were not de-ployed in high-risk areas.
In Britain, however, the official response has been unequivocal. A secret memo circulated two weeks ago to army medical staff by the biological weapons unit at Porton Down has insisted there was no evidence of risk to British troops who served in Kosovo.
"I don't know how they can say that," said a 27-year-old man still in the airborne unit he served with in Kosovo. He has been crippled by fatigue.
"We are expected to do regular five-mile runs as part of our training, and I just can't make it," he said. "I am dreading my next medical in June. I am going to be thrown out."
Another 24-year-old, who is also still in the army, re-ported debilitating fatigue and excruciating joint pain. "People like us just have no future," he said.
America was the only allied force to use depleted uranium (DU) in its missiles. So far it has admitted to firing about 10 tons of DU-bearing missiles from aircraft over Kosovo last year. Requests for details on missile rounds used in Serbia have been resisted.
Dan Fahey, a DU re-searcher at the Military Toxins Project in Washington, said: "We know it has been used in many more locations than we have been led to believe. The biggest danger is to the local population."