NATO-member Portugal wants to withdraw troops from Kosovo
Allegedly because its troops' health are endangered by DU ammunition
While this article is not directly concerned with the recent change in the Yugoslav government, we thought those following the situation there might be interested in it.IAC staff
By Rainer Rupp (junge Welt, Oct. 24, 2000)
Last week (Oct 14-20) the French government followed its Italian counterpart and launched an investigation of the effects of spent depleted uranium shells on its soldiers in Kosovo. Two Italian K-FOR (occupation) soldiers who were stricken with cancer and who showed symptoms similar to those with Gulf War Syndrome are to be flown from Kosovo to Rome in the near future.
The Rome military prosecutor followed his colleagues in Milan, Turin and Venice and set underway an investigation of the effects of DU-shells on Italian troops in Kosovo. With this in the background the Portuguese defense minister has decided to withdraw the Portuguese troop contingent from Kosovo.
Last month Yugoslav Ambassador to the Czech Republic Djoko Stojicic explained to the press that the K-FOR soldiers in Kosovo have had health problems for a long time, which have the great probability of being due to the massive use of DU munitions. The Belgian and Dutch governments instructed their troops to avoid eating local products. Clothing must be destroyed when the troops leave Kosovo and vehicles decontaminated. Even drinking water will ostensibly be flown in.
According to an article in the Lisbon daily newspaper, Diario de Noticias, which quotes unnamed government officials, Portuguese Defense Minister Júlio de Lemos de Castro Caldas regrets not having made the decision sooner. In addition, it appears as if the Portuguese armed forces participation in NATOs 78-day war aggression will now be under question again in Lisbon.
Last year the German Defense Ministry answered a letter from a concerned citizen about the dangers of DU in Kosovo. From the answer it could be documented that the German government and NATO were well aware of the acute dangers in Kosovo from the overall massively used, highly toxic DU munitions, as junge Welt reported earlier.
According to Diario de Noticias the Portuguese Defense Minister Castro Caldas complained that he had not been warned by the NATO general secretary before he sent his troops into the region of Kosovo that had been especially contaminated by DU shells. Apparently the Portuguese were not the only ones to criticize. Other countries are also concerned about the health of their soldiers in Kosovo.
For that reason, writes Diario de Noticias, Defense Minister Castro Caldas intended shortly to inform NATO headquarters in Brussels that Portugal intended to withdraw its troops from Kosovo.
Contradicting this, a high official of the Portuguese NATO delegation in Brussels informed junge Welt that Portugal certainly intended to pull its troops out of Kosovo, but that this had nothing to do with the Portuguese defense ministers written announcement in the article in Diario de Noticias. The reason for the withdrawal from Kosovo has much more to do with the rapidly deteriorating security conditions in the former Portuguese colony East Timor.
Because of Portugals limited military potential Lisbon would have to pull its troops out of Kosovo in order to send them to East Timor. In the framework of a reassessment then will Portugal in the near future officially inform NATO of its plans to withdraw, according to the official from the Portuguese NATO delegation in Brussels.
This latter comment is without doubt an astute explanation by the Portuguese made to avoid angering the big powers in NATO. Despite this the withdrawal of Portuguese troops from Washingtons and NATOs sight would send undesirable signals. Because of the conditions in Kosovo the already long-feared erosion process could begin in earnest and lead to a broad movement by other countries to withdraw.
In addition, conflicts within the alliance that until now have been hidden behind closed doors could be dragged out in public and do permanent damage to the image of the self-described Western community of values. For this reason it can be expected that the U.S. and NATO will do everything it their power to keep the Portuguese from taking this step.
Saarburg, Oct. 24, 2000
NATO expert Rainer Rupp was released from prison August in Germany where he was sentenced for his alleged role as the most highly placed NATO official reporting information to the socialist German Democratic Republic.
Liberally translated from German by John Catalinotto
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