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The BBC's David Shukman
The UN revelations will add to pressure for a full enquiry
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Saturday, 6 January, 2001, 18:45 GMT
Tests needed for 'Balkans Syndrome'
British paratrooper  AP
Ministry of Defence will consider results of outside tests
Lengthy delays in recognising Gulf War Syndrome must not be repeated for the veterans of the Balkan conflict, says a leading UK politician.

The health of those who served in Kosovo should be urgently investigated following the United Nations' discovery of radiation at sites bombed by Nato, says the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee Bruce George.

He is expected to call Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and his ministers to give evidence on the matter before his committee.

I am sure that the present day ministers will not want to be as unco-operative as their predecessors

Bruce George
Labour MP
It is feared men and women who were exposed to ammunition tipped with depleted uranium (DU) could contract serious illnesses.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) says it knew of the potential dangers of using DU 10 years ago. But the MoD insists there is no evidence of a risk to human health from these weapons and has no plans to screen servicemen.

Mr George has called for speedy action to carry out tests on a sample of servicemen and women who went to Kosovo. The MoD must not repeat its lengthy delay in recognising Gulf War Syndrome, he said.

Soldiers' pleas

"We are very much aware of how indifferent the last government was to the pleas of soldiers that they were suffering because of their service in the Gulf," he said.

"I am sure that the present-day ministers will not want to be as uncooperative as their predecessors."

Kevin Rudland PA
Kevin Rudland is not surprised by UN findings
His committee meets on 10 January when it is expected to invite defence ministers and Mr Hoon to give evidence.

"The government has got to say what its analysis of the situation is, what it is doing and what it proposes to do."

He said if it was found that those who served in Kosovo were more vulnerable to illness, then alternative weapon systems had to be considered and precautions taken to protect troops.

"If there is a problem, we need to know that our guys are getting the best treatment possible," he said.

Long-standing health fears

Health fears over uranium-tipped ammunition date back to the Gulf conflict of 1990-91.

But new concerns arose on Friday following the release of a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) of 11 out of 12 sites bombed by Nato in Kosovo.

It found DU or evidence of higher radioactivity around the impact points in eight sites. Further test results are expected in March but the Unep's preliminary findings recommend precautions be taken when dealing with DU.

Some servicemen claim that exposure to such uranium has triggered "Balkan War Syndrome".

Former British Army engineer Kevin Rudland, 41, from Hull, says his ill-health and the deaths of six Italian soldiers may be linked to the use of DU. Within months of his return in April 1999, his hair fell out, his teeth rotted, and he began to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome and osteoarthritis.

He said the UN findings did not surprise him: "They should screen British soldiers to find out if they were contaminated so it can be sorted out."

Italy, France, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Portugal were among countries looking into the deaths and ill-health of former peacekeepers. An MoD spokesman said: "We will watch to see what comes of the other studies that the Royal Society is carrying out."

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See also:

06 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Pressure grows for uranium tests
06 Jan 01 | Europe
UN finds radiation in Kosovo
05 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
No uranium tests for UK troops
05 Jan 01 | Europe
Nato divided over Balkan syndrome
04 Jan 01 | Europe
EU presses Nato over uranium arms
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