Italian Prime Minister wants NATO to explain cancer deaths of soldiers

Italian Prime Minister, Mr Guiliano Amato, demanded explanations from NATO yesterday on the use of depleted uranium munitions…

Italian Prime Minister, Mr Guiliano Amato, demanded explanations from NATO yesterday on the use of depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans conflicts, amid reports that six Italian soldiers who served there have died of leukaemia.

Following the death of a sixth Italian soldier, Mr Amato told La Repubblica newspaper that "NATO must carry out all the checks that will allow us to understand the history and the characteristics of depleted uranium".

A feeling of alarm over the reports was "more than legitimate," he added. NATO has denied that depleted uranium (DU) used in some of its munitions could be linked to the deaths of military personnel.

Yesterday, a spokesman at NATO headquarters in Mons said "current research indicates it would be virtually impossible for a person to inhale enough depleted uranium particles for it to be a health risk".

Later, however, the Italian foreign ministry announced that it had been agreed that next Tuesday's meeting in Brussels of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest decision-making body, would discuss the issue.

The family of a soldier who served in the former Yugoslavia, 24-year-old Mr Salvatore Carbonaro from Sicily, said on Tuesday that he had died of leukaemia in November.

The dead soldier's brother, Mr Mauro Carbonaro, told a regional newspaper that Salvatore had been in contact with DU munitions, which are used in some tank-piercing projectiles because of the metal's high density.

The dead man served in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1998 and 1999, although that is not a period when NATO has admitted to using DU ammunition in that region.

NATO officials said last month that US aircraft fired more than 10,000 depleted uranium projectiles in Bosnia between 1994 and 1995, as well as in Kosovo in 1999.

Mr Carbonaro was the sixth Italian soldier to serve in the region whose death has been linked to what is being called the "Balkans syndrome" - a series of health problems contracted by those who served in the former Yugoslavia.

The Italian defence ministry has set up a commission to establish whether there is a link between the deaths and the use of the depleted uranium.

In Belgium, five cases of cancer have been diagnosed in soldiers who served in the Balkans, but no link with the arms has been established.

Several cases of leukaemia have also been recorded amongst Dutch veterans of the Balkans, and Spain has launched an intensive study of some 32,000 military personnel who were on duty there.