DU Poses No Risk, de Leon Assures European Peacekeepers
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2001 There is no evidence depleted uranium poses health risks, Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon assured Italian peacekeepers Jan. 13 in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
"But don't take my word for it, read what our scientists and doctors have said. Then read what your own experts have to say," the deputy advised. "I think the facts will speak for themselves."
Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon greets Italian members of the Multinational Specialized Unit providing law enforcement in Bosnia. De Leon met with the members of the unit Jan. 13, 2001, in Sarajevo. He noted that Italy's elite military police, the carabinieri, are famous worldwide due to their "formidable military skills, unique style and personality." Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
De Leon's previously scheduled visit coincided with a number of European news reports linking depleted uranium, known as DU, to deaths and illness among NATO-led peacekeepers. De Leon and Italian Deputy Defense Minister Marco Minniti met with Italian soldiers and military police at two locations in Bosnia.
Italy has set up a panel to look into claims that six Italian peacekeepers have died and 21 others are ill due to DU exposure in the Balkans. The European Union has also launched an investigation, and NATO officials are reviewing DU data.
De Leon said U.S. officials studied the effects of DU when similar questions arose after the Gulf War. "We've had some of the best doctors and scientists look at the question," he told American Forces Press Service en route. "They have published their reports and the reports really speak for themselves."
The United States uses depleted uranium in certain munitions and armor. It used both in the 1991 Gulf War and last year's air strikes in the Balkans. U.S. defense officials say DU, a radioactive substance, is safe if handled properly.
U.S. data on DU will be made available to Italy and other peacekeeping counterparts, de Leon said. The only way to address the issue is "to put all of the facts on the table, to leave no question unanswered," he stressed. "We've pledged to be completely transparent -- to open our doors to them and to provide all of the information we have."
As a result of lessons learned from the Gulf War, U.S. troops deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo now receive regular medical screening.
"What we wanted to do five or 10 years hence," de Leon said, "was to be able to give them a comprehensive picture of not only medical issues, but also environmental issues."
U.S. leaders are concerned about the health of all NATO-led peacekeepers serving side-by-side in the Balkans, he told about 100 carabinieri, Italian law enforcement officers, currently serving with the Multinational Specialized Unit in Bosnia. He assured them the United States and Italy will work together closely to make sure any questions they have on issues such as DU are fully answered.
De Leon and Minniti also met with about 150 soldiers of Italy's 14th Mountain Regiment serving with the Italian Battle Group in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Officers and enlisted men clustered around the two defense leaders, expressing concerns and asking questions for more than 30 minutes in a dining facility.
According to a U.S. Embassy interpreter, the troops said they are not concerned about DU, but the daily news stories and talk shows back home frighten their families. The soldiers asked Minniti to ensure their families receive as much information as possible to relieve their concerns.
Minniti assured the troops Italian officials are aware of the families' concerns and have set up the panel to dispel myths. He said top Italian experts would study the issue and come back with a valid scientific-medical opinion.
De Leon told the Italian soldiers they should "never underestimate" commanders' commitment to their troops' well-being. "Your welfare is first and foremost in our minds and in our concerns," he said.
At both locations, de Leon thanked the Italian forces for their professionalism, teamwork and overall contribution to Balkans peacekeeping.
"Sixteen years ago, the world came to Sarajevo to participate in the Olympic Games," he told Multinational Specialized Unit members. "Six years ago, the streets of this city, the marketplace, were not safe. Today, life has returned to one of the oldest cities in Europe and it is because of the contribution you have made."
Italy's carabinieri, famous around the world, are often discussed in the halls of the Pentagon, he said, because of the unit's "formidable military skills, unique style and personality."
The Bosnia mission is now at a critical juncture, he added, and the carabinieri's role is particularly important. Five years ago, NATO-led forces came and stopped the fighting. Today, the Multinational Specialized Unit provides professional law enforcement, he said.
"You are a model for citizens as they go about their tasks every day," he told the Italian police. "You are a model in terms of how military units work and for how law enforcement should work. Because you're there, mothers have the confidence to send their children to school. Men and women have peace of mind so they can worship their God. ...
"On behalf of the president of the United States, I want to thank you for the contribution you have made to bring peace to this troubled part of the world."