Tons of radioactive dust

Anton Skripunov

Former members of the Yugoslav army filed a lawsuit against NATO for the use of depleted uranium in 1999. Controversy still flares up around the “radioactive bombings”: while Brussels denies the damage, Belgrade is recording “delayed consequences.” About inconvenient facts for the alliance – in the material of RIA Novosti.
Endangered villages
Half a century ago, the Pchinsk district in the southeast of Serbia was a resort: picturesque valleys, lakes, mineral springs. Now, they don’t go here without special need. And the once colorful villages are dying out.
“We consider it very lucky if you live to be sixty,” Zagorka Trajkovic from the village of Bratoseltse, one of the few who remained here, complains to journalists. Fifteen years ago, she buried her husband, he was 55. He was always in good health, but the tumor grew rapidly.
There is a story like this in every family. As in neighboring Bujanovac, Relyana and Borovac.
In 1999, NATO planes constantly circled over them, bombing the positi-ons of Yugoslav troops with depleted uranium ammunition – more destructive than conventional ones. After the explosion, the radioactive substance is sprayed into the atmosphere, and then settles, polluting the soil and water. A year after the war, the incidence of cancer increased sharply in the Pchinsk district. 700-800 people a year die here from oncology, almost one percent of the population. Mostly men aged 35 to 50 years.
Tons of radioactive dust
“Dirty bombing” is perhaps the darkest page of that war. American A-10 Thunderbolts dropped uranium-238 and uranium-236 cluster munitions in the same way as during Desert Storm and the Bosnian conflict.
Moreover, in Yugo-slavia, radioactive weapons were used massively: a total of 15 tons. “According to estimates, there were more than 31,000 depleted uranium shells,” says Russian Yuri Brazhnikov, who was then providing humanitarian assistance to the population.
Kosovo suffered the most. There is still equipment destroyed by such warheads. The local authorities do not even think about cleaning it up, there is no need to talk about the comprehensive cleaning of the territory from radiation. Meanwhile, scientists annually record an increase in the number of oncological diseases. In the last couple of years, they have been increasingly identified in those born in the late 1990s.
The “epidemic” also struck the Yugoslav army: in the first ten years after the war, more than 30 thousand fell ill with cancer. Mostly diagnosed with leu-kemia and a brain tumor. D-ied, according to various s-ources, from ten to 18 thousand. This has been called the “Balkan Syndrome”.
The large spread in the calculations is due to the fact that in Serbia they are still arguing about the consequences of uranium bombing. “If politicians and society as a whole are confident in their impact on the health of the population, then doctors are not so unanimous, the problem continues to be studied,” explains Serbian historian and political scientist Aleksandar Zivotic.
Doctors are also referred to in the North Atlantic Alliance. Although at first they completely denied the fact of using depleted uranium. They confessed two years after the war, when it became known about the premature death of 18 peac-ekeepers. Oncology killed them in a matter of months: doctors claimed that this was possible only with stro-ng radioactive radiation.
“The use of weapons with depleted uranium could hardly lead to blood cancer, which some peacekeepers fell ill with. However, all information is now being checked, and only after that we will draw final conclusions,” US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright justified herself in 2001.
Two years later, a UN special commission conf-irmed her words. However, the report keeps slipping phrases about “long-term delayed consequences” that will manifest themselves in 15-20 years. Such a soft assessment, in fact, freed the Americans during the campaign in Iraq, where doctors also recorded a surge in leukemia, cancer of the lungs, brain, pancreas and reproductive organs. The number of congenital mutations has increased significantly.
Victims of the “Iraq syndrome” appealed to the International Court of Justice. But the case was not opened. The same fate befell the claims of American soldiers to the Pentagon. The military department categorically denies the harm of depleted uranium. By the way, according to media reports, it was actively used in Afghanistan and Syria.
Italian precedent
Nevertheless, neither the NATO command, nor the authorities of the United States and some European countries managed to hush up the topic, primarily because of the lawsuit of 500 retired Italian soldiers who served in the Balkans in the late 1990s.
During the process, it turned out that they had almost the same symptoms. Like colleagues from the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain and Belgium. In 2011, the command of the Italian Armed Forces was found guilty. The court ruled that, aware of the risks, the military “did not take measures to eliminate the threat,” and also did not recognize the responsibility for the death from cancer of 27-year-old Valerio Melis. In total, over the past ten years, Italian courts of various levels have satisfied 253 claims.
Another lawsuit, which is called fateful, is still ongoing. We are talking about compensation to the residents of Sardinia, where one of the largest NATO bases is located. In the late 1980s, old uranium-core ammunition was disposed of at the Salto di Quirra test site, and a few years later, an increase in the incidence of leukemia was noted on the island. If the court takes the side of the victims, the authorities, according to human rights activists, will officially recognize the actions of the military as dangerous not only for themselves, but also for the population.
“Consequences for Billions of Years”
The interests of the Italians were represented by lawyer Angelo Fiore Tartaglia. Now he will help the plaintiffs from Serbia. The first ever lawsuit aga-inst NATO over uranium bombings was filed a year ago. However, the leadership of the alliance ignored him. Now a new attempt. The documents were handed over to the Supreme Court of Belgrade.
“By law, there are six months to deliver the claim to NATO. We propose to do this by e-mail or through the representation of the alliance at the Serbian Ministry of Defense. Or appoint a temporary representative at the court,” explains lawyer Srdjan Aleksic, who collects evidence of damage to the Yugoslav army. In 1999, he adds, Western forces “had clear superiority,” so they could get by with conventional weapons. But they launched radioactive.
“Such munitions have a long-term detrimental effect, and there will be consequences for the entire population for millions of years,” Aleksic emphasizes. “This is a war crime, and the North Atlantic Alliance must compensate the citizens of Serbia.”
We are talking about compensation for each victim in the amount of 300 thousand euros. However, it is difficult to assess the harm in general: the half-life of uranium is 4.5 billion years. A hazardous substance, environmentalists specify, pollutes the rivers flowing into the Aegean Sea, and the countries neighboring Serbia also suffer. However, despite hundreds of studies and thousands of testimonies, NATO continues to deny blame.