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NZ Supports Halt To DU Munitions Use

8 February 2001

Kia ora,

the press release from Matt Robson (copied below) brings the good news that the NZ government has finally joined those European governments who have been calling for a moratorium on the use of DU ammunition. As you may recall, in early January Italy, Germany, Norway and Greece demanded a moratorium on the use of DU until it has been clarified whether or not it poses a health risk.

According to a Washington Post report on 11 January, France, Britain and the US governments all firmly rejected removing the munitions from NATO arsenals ... "US officials said a moratorium would be perceived as an admission of guilt that could later be exploited to pin allegations of war crimes on allied leaders."

It is not only some of the European governments who are concerned about DU use. On 17 January, Reuters reported that United Nations staff ... "worldwide were warned on Tuesday to steer clear of the shards of weapons that may have been made with depleted uranium, blamed by some peacekeeping soldiers in Kosovo for cases of leukemia".

While we would have preferred a call for a total ban on DU deployment and use, a call for a moratorium is at least a good start!

As you can see from Matt Robson's statement below, the NZ government has expressed concern for the welfare of armed forces personnel who have been deployed in areas where DU munitions may have been used; and also for the people living in those places.

However, one area which they appear to have overlooked to date was the subject of a fax we sent to the International Security and Arms Control division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 29 January 2001. The fax reads in part as follows:

"We have not, however, heard of any similar announcement about monitoring the health of NZ civilians who have worked for aid or peace groups in Southern Iraq (in particular, as the area in which DU ammunition was most heavily used during the Gulf war), Bosnia or Kosovo.

As well, there has been no announcement as to monitoring of the health of immigrants and refugees from these areas.

Civilian workers (and of course immigrants and refugees) are more likely to have been exposed to any contamination in water sources and the food chain because of their heavier reliance on local food and water supplies, whereas soldiers may be more reliant on rations coming from outside the areas where they are stationed.

Can you tell us if the NZ government has made any arrangements to monitor the health of NZ civilians who have lived and worked in the areas listed above, and of migrants from those places ? If this has not already been taken into consideration, will it be now ?

... it seems that the minimum action the government can take at this point to allay the fears of civilians who have been in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo would be to publish a list of the areas where DU ammunition use was concentrated. There should then of course be a procedure for those people who have lived in those areas to access more information and to have their health monitored as per those from the NZ armed forces."

We have not received a satisfactory answer in response to this, but we understand that Matt Robson will now be following it up. _______________________

7 February 2001

Media Statement - Matt Robson

Robson supports halt to uranium munitions use

Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Matt Robson is backing Italian calls for a suspension on the use of depleted uranium munitions.

Emerging from a meeting with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Dr Lamberto Dini this afternoon, Mr Robson has voiced his support for the suspension being advocated in Italy and Germany.

"Depleted uranium released from fired munitions in the form of fine particles may be inhaled, ingested or remain in the environment. In all cases it is potentially dangerous," says Mr Robson.

"Good science requires taking a precautionary approach, and suspending use until the risks have been properly and independently assessed."

Depleted uranium is somewhat less radioactive than naturally-occurring uranium but, Mr Robson notes, it is the concentration that is the issue.

"Just as there were good reasons for moving to lead-free petrol, so also we have to be wary of the toxic effects of uranium."

The high density and hardness of uranium when alloyed with titanium makes very effective armour-piercing shells.

Depleted uranium has both low-level radioactivity and a degree of chemical toxicity. It is used in shells because the United States has large stockpiles derived from its nuclear power industry.

"It is a very macabre form of recycling," Mr Robson says.

"Prior to the present investigations, the United Kingdom and the United States defence establishments argued that there was no risk from long-term radioactivity following the use of depleted uranium ammunition. Now they have agreed there needs to be further investigation. That is a step forward.

"As Minister I have asked officials to follow closely independent investigations currently underway."

National investigations are taking place in European countries. Independent of these, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study is underway and the World Health Organisation sees a need for full-scale epidemiological and toxicological studies of the effects on people living in the Balkans and the Gulf.

Depleted uranium was used extensively in the 1991 Gulf War, and to a much lesser extent by NATO in Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, and in Kosovo last year.

New Zealand Defence Forces personnel who may have been exposed on uranium battlefields in Iraq and the Balkans are being surveyed.

"I fully support that work, but I am also concerned about the civilian populations in areas where depleted uranium munitions were used."

"At the beginning of the month the World Health Organisation appealed for $2 million to kick-start an estimated $20 million study of the effects of depleted uranium. I will be asking officials to consider how New Zealand might contribute to the proposed study."

Peace Movement Aotearoa the national networking peace group PO Box 9314, Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand. tel +64 4 382 8129, fax 382 8173, website Internet Peace Gateway


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