The Serbian parliament will establish a commission to examine the alleged effects on public health of NATO’s use of depleted uranium ammunition during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia.
Serbian MPs are expected to vote on Friday to establish a parliamentary commission to determine whether NATO’s use of depleted uranium ammunition in 1999 has increased the number of cancer sufferers – despite scepticism from medical experts.
“Every year we use phosphate fertilisers with more uranium than what was dropped in 1999 [by NATO],” said epidemiologist Zoran Radovanovic, chairman of the ethics committee of the Serbian Medical Association.
Radovanovic told the Serbian national broadcaster, RTS, that the public is continually being frightened with a non-existing cancer epidemic, and denied that there has been an increase in the number of cancer cases.
But former chief surgeon at the Institute for Oncology and Radiology Momcilo Inic insisted that he has noted an increase in cancer patients since the 1999 NATO campaign.
However, Inic told BIRN that experts from all relevant fields must be consulted before the cause is determined.
Nuclear physicist Istvan Bikit told the regional TV channel N1 that the commission should focus on those areas where depleted uranium ammunition was used – Kosovo and southern Serbia.
“It’s very hard to make a connection [between depleted uranium and cancer] because the harmful effect depends on how long you were exposed, where the projectile hit, was there evaporation and how much,” Bikit said.
Some politicians and Serbian media seem to have made up their minds even before the commission was been set up, however.
Parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic said that she believes the commission will be able to prove the link between the use of depleted uranium ammunition and cases of cancer.
But Kyle Scott, the US ambassador to Belgrade, said that the World Health Organisation and the UN determined that depleted uranium does not pose a serious health risk.
Meanwhile, Serbian tabloid media have been publishing sensationalist articles over past several days, claiming that the country is facing terrible consequences due to the NATO bombing.
The articles mostly ignore the fact that ammunition made from depleted uranium was used almost entirely in Kosovo, and to a lesser extent in the southern Serbian municipalities.
The pro-government daily Informer published an article on Thursday with the headline “NATO Deliberately Spread Cancer in Serbia”, while the state-owned Vecernje novosti said that “Uranium is Mowing Down Serbs”.
The future chairman of the parliamentary commission, doctor and ruling party MP Darko Laketic, has shown more restraint, saying that he does not want to prejudge what caused the increase in number of cancer cases.
“We have an obligation towards the population to prove the causes [of the cases],” Laketic told RTS.
He said that the investigation will not limit itself to the alleged effects of depleted uranium, but will also examine the effects of toxins released from the bombing of chemical plants and similar facilities.
The establishment of the commission is supported both by ruling and opposition parties in the Serbian parliament, who are expected to vote on the issue on Friday.
NATO launched air strikes in Serbia on March 24, 1999, without the backing of the UN Security Council, after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to sign up to a peace deal to end his forces’ crackdown on Kosovo Albanian rebels seeking independence.
By the time Milosevic eventually conceded 78 days later, the civilian death toll from the bombing campaign was put at around 500 by Human Rights Watch.