Published on Tuesday, March 21, 2000 by the Associated Press
NATO: U.S. Jets Fired Depleted Uranium Rounds in Kosovo War

GENEVA -- U.S. jets used 31,000 depleted uranium rounds -- about 10 tons of the munitions -- during the Kosovo war, a U.N. task force said Tuesday, citing confirmation by NATO.

Some specialists believe the rounds, which have been used as far back as the Persian Gulf War, are environmentally harmful, especially when people and animals inhale the dust that forms when the shells disintegrate on impact.

Target zones hit by depleted uranium -- known as DU -- should be marked and children kept away from them, said Pekka Haavisto, head of the U.N. Environment Program's Balkans Task Force.

Haavisto said NATO's confirmation that it used DU should not cause alarm, but conceded scientific knowledge of its effects is limited. He said he was unable to estimate the number of people exposed.

"I'm very happy that this spring we have got finally from NATO the information, but we would have been more happy if we could have had this information already last summer," Haavisto said.

A set of NATO maps of areas where the munitions were used "is not precise enough to make field assessments," Haavisto said. He noted that U.N. experts last year carried out measurements in Kosovo, but found nothing because the exact locations were unknown.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the ammunition's use did not violate any international conventions.

In the past, the U.S. Defense Department has robustly defended the use of depleted uranium -- a dense metal which provides enhanced armor-piercing capability -- saying the rounds pose no more health risk than conventional anti-tank weapons.

The U. N. task force said the World Health Organization was preparing a general report on the health effects of depleted uranium and that the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science, was producing its own independent study.

NATO secretary-general Lord Robertson wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Feb. 7, acknowledging that DU rounds were used during last spring's air campaign against Yugoslavia whenever American A-10 ground attack aircraft engaged armored vehicles.

He said the ammunition was part of the planes' standard load, meaning that they were used throughout Kosovo on about 100 missions.

The major focus of the operations was an area west of the Pec-Dakovica-Prizren highway, in the areas surrounding Klina and Prizren and north of a line between Suva Reka and Urosevac, Robertson said. But he added that many missions used DU in other areas.

The round, Robertson said, uses a byproduct of the uranium refining process.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press