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Fears resurface of Swiss troop exposure to radiation

Were Swiss troops in the Balkans exposed to radiation?

(Keystone)

The Swiss army has ordered medical check-ups for all troops who served in the Balkans, after the revelation that a soldier died of leukaemia in 1998 after a posting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The soldier's sudden illness and death two years ago is being reassessed in the light of similar cases of leukaemia among the troops of other European armies who served in Bosnia and Kosovo.

There are fears that radioactive shells used by Nato may be responsible for the illnesses. At least eight Italian soldiers have died of the rare blood cancer, and there have also been deaths among Spanish, Czech and Portuguese troops.

The Swiss army reacted swiftly to a report in a Sunday newspaper, the SonntagsBlick, that a Swiss soldier may have died of the "Balkan Syndrome" already two years ago.

The army pledged to contact all 900 soldiers who served in Bosnia and Kosovo as early as next week.

It said they would be invited for medical tests, and ordered to hand in any ammunition collected in the Balkans as souvenirs.

The army's decision comes only two days after it dismissed as "negligible" the risk of radioactive contamination to Swiss personnel in the Balkans.

At a news conference organised on Friday in response to growing fears in Europe about the exposure of troops to radioactive weapons, army doctors said the danger was small because Swiss troops had not served in areas where the shells had been used.

The cases of leukaemia among troops who served in the region may have been caused by radioactive particles from depleted uranium shells used as anti-tank weapons by United States warplanes in the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts.

There is so far no evidence to confirm the theory.

The military laboratory in Spiez said it had found traces of radioactive debris in the Nato bombardment zone in Kosovo, and the army said it had warned staff to stay away from ammunition and debris.

However, Swiss soldiers told the SonntagsBlick it was common for troops serving in the Balkans to collect ammunition on their days off. They said much of it was brought back to Switzerland.

by Malcolm Shearmur

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