Amid growing concern, UN examines depleted uranium sites in Bosnia

Responding to concern from peacekeeping forces and Bosnians, a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) team has begun tests on depleted uranium (DU) sites, whilst the European Parliament has voted to propose a moratorium on the weapons’ use.

The UNEP team arrived in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, on 25 January, to begin preliminary tests to assess levels of depleted uranium left behind by up to 10,000 rounds of the ammunition dropped by Nato bombing during the country’s war, which ended in 1995. The action follows similar tests conducted in Kosovo, after many reported cases of cancer among peacekeeping forces (see related story). Although troops from several countries are undergoing medical examination, the NATO-led S-FOR Force said that it had no plans to monitor the effects of DU on Bosnia’s civilians, although the local population would have had far longer exposure to the chemical than serving troops.

BBC reports said that NATO dropped the greatest concentration of DU on the town of Hadzici, near Sarajevo. Most of the Serb population from Hadzici are now living in the town of Bratunac, in eastern Bosnia, where doctors there have reported a greatly increased incidence of cancer-type illnesses.

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution by 394 votes to 60 to propose a moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons in accordance with the precautionary principle and to set up an independent European medical working party. The resolution also called for the long-term effects on the civilian population to be evaluated and for priority to be given in aid programmes to protect the Balkan environment. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom announced that the EU, as part of the Stability Pact, was funding environmental reconstruction of a total value of 16.3 million euros (£10.3 million).

NATO’s senior medical advisory body, the Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services (COMEDS), consisting of medical professionals from all member nations, reiterated that “ the use of depleted uranium was a low-level risk under specific limited circumstances and that there was no evidence of ill-health related to Depleted Uranium among SFOR and KFOR personnel who had served in the Balkans.” COMEDS did say, however, that it had a commitment to examine and assess illness and mortality rates among soldiers.

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