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Deaths threaten unity of Nato
Nato was struggling to contain growing tensions within its ranks last night over the so-called "Balkans syndrome" as the mystery illness was blamed for further deaths among alliance veterans.
Despite the organisation's best attempts to contain the political fallout, there were fears that the dispute - mainly between the United States and Italy - could jeopardise future Nato peacekeeping operations.
The casualty toll rose to 27 yesterday as reports flooded in from across Europe of further cases of veterans of peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo dying or falling ill with cancer-related diseases.
In Italy, Il Giornale described "Balkans syndrome" as an "epidemic" after the death toll climbed to nine. The latest three victims - two soldiers and a nurse - died of cancer after serving in Bosnia.
Many victims and their families blamed the outbreak on the use of depleted uranium by the US Air Force for its armour-piercing rounds and there were calls for the munitions to be banned.
Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, said: "Even if this risk was not there, I do not like the idea of using these particular weapons. I want the truth to be ascertained."
In Washington the Pentagon insisted that there was no evidence linking its depleted uranium weapons with leukaemia, but privately senior Nato officials were furious at Signor Prodi's remarks and said that they risked whipping up public hysteria.
The US, Britain and most of the other Nato countries insist that they have found no evidence linking depleted uranium weapons with cancer or any other illnesses.
Nato has been forced to respond and, in a letter to Amedeo De Franchis, Italy's Ambassador to Nato, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, its Secretary-General, assured the Italians that all information available on the use of depleted uranium in the Bosnia air campaign of 1995 would be made available.
(C) London Times. Reprinted for Fair Use Only
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