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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

UK Politics

Concerns over Nato missile safety

Thousands of Gulf War veterans are now ill

Weapons containing a toxic substance suspected of causing Gulf War Syndrome could be being used by Nato forces in the Kosovo conflict a Labour MP has warned.

Kosovo: Special Report
The government has said British forces are not using depleted uranium (DU) ammunition in the Balkans.

But MP Neil Gerrard, says that the Defence Secretary George Roberston should make a Commons statement about whether other Nato nations are doing so.

DU is a toxic and radioactive by-product of the process of converting natural uranium for use as nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons.

Some doctors believe its use in anti-tank shells in the 1991 Gulf War caused the mysterious and debilitating illnesses which many US and UK forces veterans have developed since returning from that conflict.

A recent Ministry of Defence report said that there was little chance that soldiers had developed so-called Gulf war syndrome from handling DU material.

'Matter for individual nations'

However, this has failed to satisfy many sufferers on both sides of the Atlantic who are awaiting the result of research projects into the cause of their condition.

Kosovo - Military hardware
Mr Gerrard says he has also not been reassured by a Commons written reply from Mr Robertson which said it was a "matter for individual nations" to decide what ammunition they employed in Kosovo.

Mr Gerrard stressed that as a Nato nation, Britain should know what weapons were being used by other members of the alliance.

He quoted the minister: "I have had no discussions on the use of depleted uranium with my Nato counterparts.

"The UK has not used DU ammunition in the Balkans. It is a matter for individual nations as to what ammunition they employ."

Addressing Commons Leader Margaret Beckett, Mr Gerrard asked: "Would you accept that a cynic outside this House might well interpret that answer as meaning that such ammunition has been employed?

"Would you ask Mr Robertson if he could make a statement to this House to explain why, in a war which is being conducted by Nato and in which we are led to believe senior politicians such as himself are regularly involved in discussing strategy, we cannot be told whether Nato nations are employing weapons of this nature?"

'Pure speculation'

Brits in Balkans
Mrs Beckett said she understood the MP's concern following media reports suggesting DU use in the Balkans.

"I like you have seen a number of press reports - all of which I must say, quite honestly, have seemed to me to be highly speculative... hypothesis piled on hypothesis.

"While you are right to say that there will be those who will therefore assume that something is being hidden, equally it may well be simply that those speculative reports are no more than that - pure speculation."

Mrs Beckett said the government intended to keep the House informed about Kosovo. It might be possible to raise the matter with Mr Robertson in the near future, she said.

Last month Nato spokesman Jamie Shea refused to comment on whether DU weapons were being deployed in Yugoslavia.

"I am not going to comment on the type of munitions that Nato uses because that is an operational question," he said when questioned on the BBC's Talking Point on Air.

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