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  World News / Europe
KOSOVO: Nato 'hindered' inquiry
By Frances Williams in Geneva, Christopher Brown-Humes in Stockholm and Neil Buckley in Brussels

KosovoA United Nations task force looking at the environmental impact of Nato's 70-day bombing campaign against Serbia said yesterday it had been hindered by the refusal of the alliance to co-operate in its investigation of the use of depleted uranium weapons.

Presenting the report of the Balkan task force, set up by the UN environment programme to assess environmental damage in Serbia and Kosovo, Pekka Haavisto, task force chairman, said yesterday the team had been unable to determine the extent of pollution caused by uranium-tipped weapons.

He told a press conference in Stockholm that Nato had not been prepared to co-operate with the task force, nor would it admit using the weapons, which are designed to pierce armoured vehicles or underground bunkers.

"We did not find any evidence that depleted uranium was used against the tanks and vehicles we inspected," Mr Haavisto said, although he added that only a small number of tanks had been examined.

In its report, the task force says immediate action is needed to obtain information from Nato confirming "if, how and where" depleted uranium weapons were used.

Nato has publicly admitted using depleted uranium weapons during the Kosovo campaign but only in small quantities.

Nato diplomats said yesterday there had been some initial contacts between the alliance's Brussels headquarters and the UN task force on how and where such weapons were used.

But the matter was then referred to the US - partly at Washington's insistence - since depleted uranium weapons were fired only by US aircraft.

The use of such weapons has been associated by organisations representing US and UK veterans of the Gulf war in Iraq with serious health problems, including birth defects. These are denied by the US and UK military authorities.

In its review of other environmental damage from the Nato bombing campaign, the UN report says there has been no "catastrophe". But it recommends immediate action to clean up four pollution "hot-spots" - at Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor. Toxic waste spills and other damage at these sites are serious and pose a threat to human health, it says.

Mr Haavisto, a former Finnish environment minister, said an urgent clean-up programme would cost some $20m, which should be provided as part of humanitarian assistance.

Mr Haavisto said the exercise marked the first time an environmental impact assessment had been made of any war, though the UN did look at the effects of oil well fires after the Gulf war with Iraq.

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