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NATO: Commission To Probe Effects Of Depleted Uranium Ammunition

Brussels, 11 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO says it will create a commission to probe the health effects of its use of depleted uranium ammunition in the Balkans. The move comes amid continuing concern among European nations that the use of the ammunition could be linked to serious illnesses among troops who served in the Balkans. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said yesterday the probe will go ahead because NATO has "nothing to hide."

Robertson said there is no evidence to suggest the controversial weapons pose significant health risks. The commission will examine the risks posed by the use of U.S. forces of depleted uranium rounds in NATO's air war against Yugoslavia in 1999 and in the 1994-1995 conflict in Bosnia.

But there was reluctance for the investigation from Britain and the U.S., which, along with France, are the only NATO members acknowledged to use the ultra-dense ammunition.

The outgoing head of the UN administration running Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said late yesterday there was no radioactivity detected in the Yugoslav province.

Meanwhile, the BBC and British newspapers today quoted a British Army report that warned almost four years ago that soldiers exposed to dust from depleted uranium shells might be at risk of developing lung, lymph, and brain cancers.

The draft document, prepared as an internal document for military officials, said soldiers doing salvage and repair work inside vehicles which had been hit by the depleted uranium shells faced up to eight times the acceptable level of uranium exposure.

The British Ministry of Defense called the report a "discredited" draft paper prepared by a trainee and never endorsed by senior staff.

The ministry said in a statement that "certain elements are scientifically incorrect or misleading." The British government repeated its position that medical evidence has so far failed to prove any link between the ammunition and health risks.