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Army hotline inundated with calls about Balkan syndrome

Swiss yellow berets at Sarajevo airport in Bosnia

(Keystone)

The Swiss army says a hotline set up to deal with enquiries from soldiers who served in the Balkans has been inundated with calls. The line was opened on Sunday amid fears that European soldiers could have been exposed to radiation.

"The phone has been ringing non-stop," said Felix Endrich, spokesman for the army chief of staff.

Endrich said the special line was intended to take calls purely from Swiss soldiers who had brought back souvenirs of ammunition from their tours of duty. He said 10 people had admitted to bringing back weaponry.

The army fears some of these keepsakes could contain depleted uranium, which is thought to be linked to an outbreak of cases of cancer among European troops stationed in the Balkans.

At least eight Italian soldiers have died of leukaemia since returning from the area. On Sunday, the "SonntagsBlick" newspaper revealed that a Swiss soldier had also died of blood cancer after a posting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In response, the army announced it would contact all 900 Swiss troops who had served in Bosnia and Kosovo to arrange medical check-ups.

The army had originally played down fears that Swiss soldiers could have been affected by radiation from depleted uranium shells, saying no Swiss were stationed in the contaminated zones.

It has asked Nato for information on the use of depleted uranium in the Balkans and expects to receive clarification before the end of the week.

The Geneva-based World Health Organisation said on Monday that soldiers and civilians exposed to depleted uranium had probably not received large enough doses to cause cancer, but more research was needed.

The army hotline number is: 033 223 5727

swissinfo with agencies

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