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Peacekeepers' deaths linked to 'Balkans syndrome'

December 30, 2000
Web posted at: 12:25 PM EST (1725 GMT)
CNN News

ROME, Italy -- The death toll of Italian peacekeepers who served in the Balkans has risen to five, with the deaths linked to the so-called "Balkans syndrome," Italian newspapers reported on Saturday.

All five veterans died from cancer.

Italian newspapers said Italy's military prosecutor was investigating about 20 cases which the media have linked to the syndrome.

Press reports have suggested the illnesses could be linked to depleted uranium shells used by NATO during its 1999 bombing campaign to oust Serb forces from Kosovo.

Officials have denied any link, but Belgium Defence Minister Andre Flahaut on Friday called for European Union defence ministers to discuss health problems suffered by peacekeepers in former Yugoslavia.

In Lisbon, the Diario de Noticias newspaper reported that Portugal had ordered medical tests for its soldiers serving in Kosovo to check for radiation from depleted uranium ammunition used in the NATO campaign.

Concerns over possible health effects of depleted uranium shells in Kosovo have also been raised by service members or civilian aid workers in Britain and the Netherlands.

U.S. attack jets fired about 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium ammunition -- used to pierce armour -- at Serbian tanks and armoured cars during the Kosovo campaign, according to a United Nations expert.

The Pentagon said in March that the remains of the shells did not present a significant health hazard.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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