The big news in Serbia, and in much of the rest of Europe, was the continued concern about the effects of weapons using depleted uranium. Defence ministries in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal are worried by the increase in cases of cancer among soldiers who served in the Balkans.
Depleted uranium (DU) is used to harden ammunition; armour piercing shells made of the material can defeat almost all tank armour now in use. However, on impact and during handling, DU weapons can shed dust that is suspected of causing cancer and other illnesses when ingested.
A score or more of NATO soldiers who served in the region are thought to have died or become very ill after coming into contact with DU munitions. The effect on Serb soldiers at whom DU bombs were targeted and on civilians living in areas where they landed is causing serious worries in Serbia.
Glas javnosti has the most dramatic coverage: under the headline "Europe in panic, victims in Serbia," it quotes what it calls a leading Yugoslav ecological expert, Dejan Dimov, who said uranium shells were "scattered across Serbia" and that the incidence of malignant disease in Serbia had already increased by a third. He also accused NATO of using DU hardened bombs on civilian buildings in urban areas.
NATO, naturally, denies that there is any danger to health from the use of these weapons—to its military personnel. So far, the statements from Brussels have not been careless enough to describe the bombs and shells as "harmless." But for an organisation that once compared the noise of bombers flying over Kosovo to "the sound of angels," that tautology can't be far ahead as pressure mounts for comprehensive investigation of the health risks associated with taking the spent fuel from nuclear reactors and making ammunition out of it.
As Politika pointed out, it took illness amongst its soldiers to awake NATO to the potential long term danger in using DU. "The debate does ot at all mention the people who live in the areas where the depleted uranium bombs were dropped. A UN survey due out in February will show whether a mysterious illness occasionally mentioned in the Serbian media is linked to DU."
Here come the marines
Meanwhile, in the Kosovo province itself, sporadic fighting continued between Serb security forces and Albanian rebels fighting under the name UCPMB, the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac.
This week, Scandinavian and British commandos were deployed along the disputed border, including the British Royal Marines. Their commanders claim their training in Arctic fighting will assist in the monitoring of the situation as the snows of winter set in.
Danas reported that the armed Albanians are deploying fresh forces throughout Kosovo, as part of a plan to drive out the remaining Serbs there, although the UN Mission UNMIK denies that there is any unusual military activity apart from that already known about on the south-eastern border.
Indeed, the international community is so confident that the security situation is under control that they are promoting the idea that many Serbs who left as NATO forces arrived can return safely to their homes. This week, a convoy of around 300 Kosovo Serbs were escorted back to their villages in eastern Kosovo, around Gnjilane. The Yugoslav federal minister for minority issues, Rasim Ljajić, watched them leave. OSCE representatives, unarmed, will be there to act as their security. The return was arranged with Albanian representatives after Ljajić began negotiations "in a new spirit of co-operation."
Yugoslav and Albanian leaders are under intense pressure to carry out this kind of symbolic return to normality. There have also been renewed calls from the European Union for Serb authorities to release more than 1,000 ethnic Albanian prisoners who have been in detention, often without trial, since June 1999. The Swedish foreign ministry, which is acting for the EU in Sweden's presidential term, called them political prisoners.
Glas javnosti reports one reason why their release may be further delayed; two of twelve Serbs abducted by Albanian guerillas on the border are still missing. The others have been released
Trials and tribunals
The popularist newspaper Blic carried a headline that made little sense if you read the story, about former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavšić. The headline read "Hague: no public charges against Plavšić," but the body of the story indicated that she would indeed face charges at The Hague, if she were to find herself there.
Plavšić is suspected of involvement "in the genocide against non-Serbs during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina" said the paper.
What is important about this is that in such a widely read story, and despite the misleading headline, the possibility that a Serb might appear to face charges for the conduct of the war was not couched in vitriolic language aimed at Carla del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor at the tribunal. Del Ponte, once only referred to as an American stooge running a kangaroo court, is due in Belgrade in a few days for discussions with President Koštunica.
More surprisingly still, Blic reports an interview with Florence Hartmann, the spokesperson for the tribunal, saying "if former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karađić and General Ratko Mladić are in Yugoslavia, the Hague Tribunal will demand their extradition."
The Hague's public enemy number one, former president Slobodan Milošević, may be a long way from facing that tribunal, but he is getting closer to some form of trial, it appears. Glas javnosti carried the headline "People's tribunal has already launched proceedings," and excerpts and interview with the new president. Koštunica says "the launching of criminal proceedings against... Milošević can be expected." Whether the outside world will let Serbia get away with pinning most of the blame on one man remains to be seen.
In other news
- President Koštunica's row with Montenegro seems as far as ever from solution. Blic reports that DOS can't even agree on who should take part in talks about the future status of the smaller federal partner. DOS wants politicians from Yugoslav institutions to participate, while the Montenegrins want just a face-to-face between Serbian officials and their own.
- Finally, Serb dogs have had a good week, if they can read the papers (and who knows?). Večernji novosti reported that the famous French actress Brigitte Bardot that her charity will invest 400,000 French francs, about USD 60,000, in a new dog shelter for the Yugoslav capital.
Dan Damon, 6 January 2001
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