The Associated Press, November 07, 2002
Bomb Effects Eyed in Yugoslavia
Report: NATO Bombing of Industrial Sites in Yugoslavia May Do Environmental Harm
UNITED NATIONS - The bombing of factories during the 1999 NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia may have long-term effects on health, raising questions about targets in possible future conflicts such as Iraq, according to a new report by an environmental group.
Precision bombing of industrial plants can lead to contamination that is difficult to remove and may violate international humanitarian law, the report found.
Civilians living near the targets may also be exposed to greater health risks from contamination of the air, water, and food, said the report released this week by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a research organization based in Takoma Park, Md.
Maj. Robert Ditchey, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command, said Tuesday he could not comment on the report because the military had not seen it. Ditchey referred questions to NATO, where a spokesman did not return telephone messages Tuesday.
The study noted that "precision weapons have been used in Afghanistan and are likely to be a major part of the military strategy in any proposed war with Iraq."
It called on countries to consider the legal, health and environmental issues raised by attacking industrial targets and the collateral damage caused by bombing.
These issues "should not be dismissed out of hand because countries are ruled by ruthless dictators," the study said.
"Currently collateral damage is measured in terms such as the number of civilian casualties or the cost of replacing property," said Sriram Gopal, the report's main author. "Long-term harm to the environment can be much more difficult to quantify and evaluate, despite its very significant costs."
Co-author Nicole Deller, a lawyer, said that "precision targeting may be intended to minimize civilian damage, but the choice of targets may still violate the international laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions."
"The deliberate targeting of industrial facilities that hold little military value yet can cause severe health and environmental damage appear to violate these laws," she said.
The institute studied the NATO bombing of an industrial complex in Pancevo which resulted in releases of the toxic chemicals dichloroethane and mercury. It also studied the bombing of the Zastava car factory in Kragujevac, 60 miles south of Belgrade, where a transformer station leaked toxic PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls which have been linked to some cancers.
Gopal said it was impossible to precisely determine the effects of the bombings because of a lack of data pollution in the area before the conflict.
The institute said its investigation was hampered because the Department of Defense rejected its Freedom of Information Act request for targeting criteria used during the Yugoslav bombings. An analysis of the Yugoslav bombing campaign by the General Accounting Office also remains classified, it said.