SPANISH KOSOVO PEACEKEEPERS TO BE TESTED FOR DEPLETED URANIUM EFFECTS

MADRID, Spain, December 23, 2000 (Agence France Presse)

The 32,000 Spanish troops who served in Kosovo will undergo medical tests to determine whether they were exposed to radiation from depleted uranium shells, the defense ministry has decided.

"Many have expressed their concern and to reassure ourselves we have decided to monitor everyone," said army doctor Colonel Luis Villalonga of the defense ministry told a news conference Friday.

Depleted uranium is often used in anti-tank shells, because its extreme density makes it good for piercing armor.

Some 5,000 tests have already been carried since February on Spanish troops but "no radiation anomaly linked to the depleted uranium was detected," said Villalonga.

The army doctor denied television reports that a Spanish soldier who served in Kosovo had died of leukemia after being exposed to radiation from depleted uranium shells used by NATO during its 1999 bombing campaign on Yugoslavia.

The death of seven Italian peaceekepers who developed leukemia after having served in the Balkans prompted Italian Defense Minister Sergio Mattarella to set up a commission of scientific inquiry into their deaths.

In Lisbon, Portugese newspapers reported that a soldier had died last March not long after returning from a mission in Kosovo.