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|Where the streets are littered with DU shells|
|01/15/01 at 05:59:21|
|Where the streets are littered with DU shells |
By Robert Fisk in Hadjici, Bosnia
15 January 2001
The snow clings to the burnt rafters of the old military factory at Hadjici and slithers off the fir trees that survived Nato's 1995 bombing. You have to crunch your way down a road past these sinister ruins to find the terrible secret of Hadjici.
It lies beside an overgrown railway track and an abandoned goods wagon, a little iced-over grass verge with round pieces of metal poking through the cancerous grey snow. For five and a half years – ignored, unmarked, never once checked by the thousands of Nato troops in Bosnia – these heaps of spent depleted uranium ammunition rounds have lain here, passed by unprotected factory workers every day.
Despite all the warnings, despite all the evidence from Iraq that thousands have died of leukaemia and cancers in areas where DU ammunition was used, despite the explosion of cancers now eating through the Serbs who lived in Hadjici during the 1995 Nato raids, these 30mm DU rounds have been left beside the road, exactly as they were when a factory worker swept them from the ruined buildings more than five years ago.
They lie next to an undamaged building that is now used by a company called Maomeks to make household furniture. In one of the skeletal factory buildings here, Djoko Zalenovic was working with ten other Serb colleagues when DU ammunition struck part of the wall in 1995, bringing it down upon them. All survived the bombing but all have since died of cancer.
It is a deceptively peaceful place. Even the tubes of metal with their sides rifled by an American armaments manufacturer long before the Bosnian war look innocent enough in the snow. Ardil Chomare was one of the first Muslim workers to move into the old military vehicle repair yard after the Serbs left and was never told the truth about the grey shards of tubular ammunition lying on the factory's concrete floors. "We used to kick them around and play football with them," he says. "One of us took some of the rounds home and painted them. He then swept the rest out of the factory ruins on to the grass verge."
Which was where they were last week when a unit of Nato troops – Germans from S-For, stationed up the road from Hadjici at Rajlovac – suddenly turned up at the Maomeks plant with a set of radiation instruments and small white flags. Which is why a white tape now runs along the snowy verge with four flags attached to it. Upon each flag is written the word "ATOM".
"No one told us about the dangers of this ammunition," Mr Chomare says. "We never thought anything about it. We didn't know that so many Serbs who were living here at the time of the bombings had died of cancer. We did hear on the news about the cancers in Iraq but we only heard in the last few days that these bombs were also used here." The German soldiers spent some time last week inspecting the roads around the old military factory complex, which is surrounded by civilian houses.
These were the homes of the 5,000 Serbs of Hadjici who made their way to Bratunac after the Nato bombings, at least 300 of whom have now died of unexplained cancers. Several of the survivors even took pieces of the DU ammunition with them to their new homes. Darko Radic, for example, possesses a warhead and tubular ammunition round identical to the spent munitions I saw at the factory site yesterday. His mother has died of a brain tumour, his father of cancer.
And, of course, the usual questions remain unanswered. Why did Nato wait five and a half years to mark this grim little patch of soil in the shattered factory at Hadjici? Why did it never bother to search for the Serbian families who have been equally shattered by the cancers that followed them into exile on the Drina river? Why did it not tell the Muslim workers of this danger zone until four days ago? If spent DU ammunition is so dangerous, why didn't Nato erect those white "Atom" flags in 1996? And if – as Nato still grimly claims – DU is harmless, why did it suddenly put those warning flags up last week?
Those who were close to the bombings say that in the immediate aftermath of the explosions, a vile smell came from the broken pieces of ammunition. But in Hadjici today a different kind of smell hangs about that heap of grey metal fragments.
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