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UN counsels caution at DU sites Kosovo

United Nations scientists investigating the effects of depleted uranium used in Kosovo during the 1999 war have called for precautions in handling ammunition that can still be found at numerous attack sites. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) research team, led by Finland’s former minister of Environment and Development Co-operation, Pekka Haavisto, is financed by donations from several governments, with Switzerland as the principal contributor.
UNEP sent a team of scientists to Kosovo to determine if there are health or environmental risks now or in the future due to the use of depleted uranium during the conflict. “It was possible to detect higher than normal levels of beta and gamma radiation,” Pekka Haavisto, head of the team told reporters. “These sites should be marked. The danger is perhaps less than having an X-ray at the dentists, but it is an unnecessary risk.

The team took “several hundred samples” of spent DU ammunition and contaminated earth, soil, plants and cow’s milk, from 13 sites in Kosovo where NATO planes had fired on suspected Yugoslav positions during the alliance’s 1999 air war. The samples will be tested in laboratories elsewhere in Europe and the results of the study become available in February next year. The team’s recently released preliminary report, however, counsels that ‘precautions be taken when dealing with penetrators and sabots (which contain DU) found at the identified sites and also in other locations where these ammunitions might be present.

The UN agency’s investigations began in May 1999 while NATO air attacks were still occurring. But the first studies were made even more difficult by the fact that NATO would not confirm that it was indeed using DU ammunition. NATO took 5 months to respond to the UN’s request for information, and finally acknowledged in March this year that its A-10 ‘’Warthog’’ aircraft had used munitions with DU in approximately 100 attacks over Kosovo territory. Haavisto said he was disappointed that NATO had not supplied precise details of the bomb sites until a year and a half after the conflict, but that the information when given had appeared accurate.

The Warthog airplanes are equipped with GAU-8/A cannons capable of firing 4,200 rounds of 30-millimetre DU shells per minute. The same weapons were used against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, and later in the NATO bombings against Bosnia.
UNEP also found that most of the 42 areas of Kosovo and Metohija on which shells with DU were dropped during the NATO bombing are in the zone between Pec and Djakovica, Deputy Italian Ecology Minister Valerio Calzolaio said on Monday. Of the total 31,500 fired shells with depleted uranium, 14,180 fell in the zone now controlled by KFOR Italian troops, Calzolaio said.

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From CADU News 6: Winter 2000/2001

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