Thu, 20 Jun 2019

Serbian lawmaker Darko Laketic, head of the Commission for Researching Health Impacts of the NATO Bombing, looks at the data and draws a clear line between the Western security alliance's 78-day bombing campaign and a rise in cancer-related disease in children born in the subsequent two decades.

The problem is, others don't see the correlation -- or have yet to be shown it.

Laketic said last week that a study commissioned by his group in tandem with the Batut Institute of Public Health of Serbia shows 'unambiguously' that children born after 1999 were exposed to something left amid the rubble from the punishing air strikes aimed at forcing Belgrade to withdraw its troops from Kosovo.

Specifically, Laketic noted increases in neuroectodermal tumors in the nervous systems of children from birth to 4 years old, malignant blood disorders in children between 5 and 9 years of age, brain tumors in 10-to-14-year-olds, and solid tumors in those aged 15 to 18.

'Some poison impacted these children, and with so many poisons released into the environment during the 1999 bombing, it's easy to guess what it is,' he said in a thinly veiled reference to incendiary devices made with depleted uranium, a controversial substance NATO has admitted to using while denying it carries extended health risks.

A member of the Russian delegation visiting Belgrade looks at the building of the Serbian Interior Ministry, which was totally destroyed in overnight NATO bombing, on April 3, 1999.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service asked Laketic for access to the study, but he said it would be made public 'as soon as the study is completed.'

The bombing of rump Yugoslavia, code-named Operation Allied Force by NATO, began on March 24, 1999, and was aimed at ending violence between ethnic Albanians and mostly ethnic Serbian forces during a two-year counterinsurgency war.

The alliance says its pilots carried out more than 38,000 combat missions, with some 3,000 cruise missiles falling on targets across Kosovo and what is now Serbia, including heavy bombardment of the capital, Belgrade. More than 1,200 Yugoslav security troops and around 500 civilians were killed in the operation.

Some of the bombs contained depleted uranium, a leftover product from the enrichment process of uranium 235. It is used in warheads because of its extreme hardness, which allows it to penetrate armored targets and fortified buildings.

Though its radioactivity is far below that of its original form, depleted uranium is still considered toxic and listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a 'radiation health hazard when inside the body.'

The Batut Institute said it did not possess the data Laketic was referring to, though it had analyzed some data on 'persons suffering from malignant tumors in Serbia' and submitted the results to Laketic.

Laketic also claimed that the institute's preliminary report had been sent to every member of parliament. But several legislators contacted by RFE/RL said they hadn't received or seen any preliminary report or refused to comment.

'I was hoping to get some information, but so far nothing, and it's been a good nine months. We have absolutely no word about the report,' said Sanda Raskovic Ivic, a deputy with the opposition People's Party.

People pass by one of the destroyed houses in the village of Ripanj, near Belgrade, that was destroyed during NATO air raids in May 1999.

NATO: 'No Lasting Damage'

For its part, NATO has repeatedly claimed that depleted uranium found in the ammunition used in the 1999 bombardments cannot be linked to adverse health effects.

In the years after the bombing, it set up an ad hoc committee to study the issue before concluding that 'to date, none of the nations or international organizations has reported finding any indication that would suggest a current threat to human health caused by radioactivity at any of the sites tested.'

'I have answered questions on this depleted-uranium issue many times including in Serbia and.... [W]e had independent assessments and they concluded that there were no lasting health damages because of the depleted uranium,' NATO's current secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told a conference in Belgrade in October.

Serbian officials are also closely following the trial of eight Italian military officials who oversaw a bombing range in Sardinia. The Italians were charged with failing to ensure health and safety standards after a rash of birth defects and cancer cases cropped up around the Quirra military base.

Prosecutors allege a tie between illness and the toxicity of the elements detonated at the base, which has reportedly been used by the alliance to test bombs and missiles containing depleted uranium and other toxins.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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