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Defence Minister Must Come Clean Or Resign

30 January 2001

Graham Capill
Party Leader

Defence Minister Must Come Clean Or Resign In Depleted Uranium Exposure Scandal

“Either Defence Force chiefs, in consultation with the Minister of Defence, are playing politics in an orchestrated campaign to avoid the reality of the situation in the former Yugoslavia, or they are grossly negligent. If neither, one must conclude they are just totally incompetent. The Defence Minister should come clean with what is going on in the investigation into the possible exposure of Kiwi soldiers to depleted uranium. He should also reveal what contact New Zealand forces have had with biological and chemical weapons,” Party Leader Graham Capill said today.

The Leader has recently become aware of two cases that show possible exposure of New Zealand soldiers to depleted uranium in old Yugoslavia. In one case, the serviceman died of cancer after his return to New Zealand. In the other case, the soldier is currently awaiting diagnosis after show leukaemia like symptoms. Unfortunately for servicemen, it can be some considerable time before symptoms appear, and unless a doctor is actually looking for them, they can be passed as belonging to an unrelated cause.

Mr Capill said, “I am deeply concerned that what we are seeing from the New Zealand Defence Force and the Minister of Defence is an orchestrated attempt to cover up the seriousness of the situation. While Christian Heritage welcomes news that a survey is underway of those who served in Yugoslavia, the questionnaire is so inadequate that it raises questions about the genuineness of the desire to find the truth.”

The questionnaire lists 27 possible locations and leaves space on the form for up to 12 others. No map of the country is provided which would allow a far better and more accurate assessment. Recipients are asked whether or not they received any briefings on health and safety aspects of dealing with depleted uranium.

“My concern is that the answer to these questions should be known already by Defence chiefs. They should know where their soldiers have served and what briefings they were given. If they do not, they are totally incompetent and should be fired.

“What is conspicuous by their absence are questions relating to soldiers’ health. The only question that gets remotely close to the subject is ‘To your knowledge, during your deployment did you come into any contact with depleted uranium radiation?’ Why are there not questions about recent visits to medical facilities? Why are they not seeking to see if the symptoms of exposure to deplete uranium are evidencing themselves amongst past servicemen?

“NZDF are aware that not only were its personnel possibly exposed to depleted uranium after the intervention of NATO Forces, but that from day one of New Zealand’s involvement in 1992, its personnel were potentially exposed to a wide variety of biological and chemical weapon agents held by the form JNA (Yugoslavia National Army). The survey suggests NZDF are ignorant of the risk, which is clearly not the case.

“The JNA was well equipped with NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) protective equipment. New Zealand service personnel were not. Although little has been said about the risk of such contamination publicly, NZDF were aware that these nasties were stored in the combat zones and that given the nature of the conflict and the poor storage conditions these stockpile were in, there is a very real chance that some or all of our service personnel who served over there have been exposed to one or more of these other more deadly biological or chemical contaminants.

“It is time the Minister of Defence came clean and told the whole story. He has a duty to initiate a full investigation into the health of our returned service personnel, not hide behind a Clayton’s questionnaire that only reveals what the Defence Force should already know. The Minister owes this to these men and women who have served, and if he continues to downplay the seriousness of the situation he is implicating himself in a cover-up, which must lead to his resignation,” Mr Capill concluded.
The Christian Heritage Party is in the process of seeking all reports relating to any possible depleted uranium, biological and/or chemical exposure risk under the Official Information Act, in an effort to expose what the Defence chiefs know about the situation.

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