NATO bombings’ aftermath takes toll on Serbia

There's a ticking time bomb in Serbia, where doctors have reported a sharp increase in cancer deaths among locals and claim this could be linked to NATO's use of depleted uranium shells during the 1999 bombings.

Serbia is a beautiful country, but it appears to be dangerous to live in. After NATO used depleted uranium munitions there during the 1999 bombing campaign, military experts from Belgrade have registered an increased radiation level and claim the area is highly contaminated.

The Radojkovic family believe they are the victims of the Alliance’s military operation called ‘Merciful Angel’.

The family’s youngest son Nikola was just five years old when an air strike hit his family village.

“I remember nine bombs dropped on that day – they targeted a TV tower just a kilometer away. I was playing in the backyard at that time. The first strike made me fall over. After the second strike I held on to a tractor. A shock wave raised both me and the vehicle,” recalls Nikola Radojkovic, a victim of fallout from depleted uranium missiles.

The family thought that was the end, but the real battle was yet to come – the battle to save the boy's life.

Eight years after the bombing, Nikola felt he had something like a fish bone stuck in his throat. Surgeons extracted two tiny pieces of shrapnel. Later, a tumor appeared there which continues to grow. Doctors believe the two things are related.

”We had three operations here in Serbia, three more in Germany – it cost 40,000 euros. Almost every family here helped us. Now the doctors say we have to do two more operations to stop the tumor’s growth, and we need 20,000 euros more,” says Dragon Radojkovic, Nikola’s father.

In 2000, NATO disclosed that depleted uranium weapons were used during its mission to bring peace to Kosovo. The Pentagon couldn’t hide cancer deaths among NATO soldiers who were serving in the region.

Doctor Nebojsha Srbljak was among the first to raise the alarm. In 2001 he registered an unprecedented increase in cancer patients.

”There is no other place in the modern world where so many people and so many young people – aged between 30 and 40 – die from cancer. Blood and lung cancer are most widespread,” says Dr. Srbljak, Head of the Merciful Angel NGO.

In an animal hospital in the south of Serbia, one of the most-bombed regions, there is evidence of something going wrong.

“Over the last 10 years, I have seen many two-headed calves, six or eight-legged lambs and other anomalies among animals. Mutation is a normal thing, but when there are so many cases – it’s a symptom. Our nature is sick. And certainly – it has to do with depleted uranium usage,” says Miodrag Milkovic, a veterinarian.

Ten years after NATO bombed the former Yugoslavia, the consequences are felt almost everywhere in Serbia. And as it takes billions of years for uranium to decay, the shadow of the ghost of the merciful angel will hang over the region virtually forever.