Hundreds of civilians died of cancer after NATO bombing

A Yugoslav pathologist has claimed that up to 400 civilians from an

A Yugoslav pathologist has claimed that up to 400 civilians from an

area bombarded by NATO with depleted uranium shells in 1994 later died of various forms of cancer.

Doctor Zoran Stankovic, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine of the Yugoslav Military-Medical Academy in Belgrade, linked the deaths - which totalled about 10 percent of the community - to radioactive weapons.

Some of the victims had worn flak jackets made from shells with depleted uranium (DU), he said in an interview.


Four hundred people died of various forms of cancer in the past five years. They were part of a community of some 4,000 Serbs from Hadzici (near Sarajevo) who moved to Bratunac north-east of Sarajevo, Stankovic said.

The death pattern was easy to follow in an isolated population, particularly with an increased occurrence of malignant diseases and deaths, Stankovic, who performed some 4,000 autopsies, said.

Many of the Serbs from Hadzici had worked in a factory repairing tanks and armoured vehicles that was heavily bombed by NATO in 1994. At the time, DU shells found on the ground were recycled and used to produce flack jackets.

Some of these Serbs wore the jackets and died, Stankovic said.

He said no organised multi-disciplinary study had been launched to establish links between DU and health hazards. But he said he strongly felt the link existed.

He was commenting on reports by experts from some Western countries that denied any link between radioactive weaponry and cancers after a renewed DU scare swept many European states whose soldiers serve in Kosovo, where NATO fired thousands of missiles containing the radioactive substance.

If it is so harmless as some people say, I would like them to collect all the remainders of the DU shells, take them to a nice house somewhere in Brussels, store the shells in the cellar and have their children playing in the house, Stankovic said.

Cases of cancer have been reported among Italian, Belgian, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese soldiers who served a peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo.

NATO faces a potential split over the long-lasting health impact of using the armour-piercing depleted uranium shells which critics blame for cancer among the troops.

Britain, NATO and the United States insist there is no evidence of a link between DU weapons and cases of leukemia among Italian soldiers. But Italy has demanded a probe into the deaths of at least seven of its soldiers from leukemia after duty in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Stankovic said DU munitions were inflicting physical and thermal damage on human beings, while exposure to their ionising radiation was seen as affecting bone marrow and the reproductive tract and causing congenital anomalies.

Particles from DU explosions were contaminating the soil and underground waters, posing threat to plants and animals, he added.

The Americans have studied effects of the Gulf war on their soldiers. Their study showed that 76 percent of their descendants were born with physical anomalies. Some were born with six fingers, some without an arm or a leg, he said.

Stankovic said the United Nations had to organise a study of possible links between DU weapons and health hazards, as the world organisation was directly responsible for the use of the depleted uranium weapons. But the study should take time because an illness takes time to develop, he said.

NATO will have to finance the research. NATO will have to pay for regular medical screening of the local population. If we want to help the people, they must be screened every six months. NATO must also send its experts to collect the leftover DU shells, because we don't need them, Stankovic said.

NATO says it had fired 31,000 shells containing DU during its 1999 three-month bombing of Yugoslavia to halt Belgrade's repression in Kosovo. Most hit Kosovo, southern Serbia and Montenegro.

The Yugoslav Army has so far reported no cases of cancer among its members who served in Kosovo during the air strikes. It says screening of 1,000 soldiers had negative results.

But Stankovic said the 1,000 soldiers represented less than one percent of some 150,000 troops deployed in Kosovo.

He also said he had received reports of two cases of eyeball cancers. These two soldiers had served in the area where thousands of shells fell. My question to international medical experts is how does the surface of the eye-ball reacts when exposed to the DU dust and does the dust causes the cancer. REUTERS