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EC NATO Willfully Triggered An Enviromental Catastrophe in Yugoslavia

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  • Fr. Sava
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 22, 2000
      By: Michel Chossudovsky
      June 18, 2000


      Professor of Economics, University of Ottawa, author of "The
      Globalization of Poverty, Third World Network, Penang, Zed Books,
      London, 1997.

      In this report, Michel Chossudovsky provides conclusive documentary and
      photographic evidence that contrary to the statements of various
      international observers, the environmental catastrophe at the Pancevo
      petrochemical plant was neither the result of 'collateral damage' (that
      is, an accident of war) nor a case of criminal negligence (that is,
      resulting from criminal disregard of consequences). Rather, the evidence
      is compelling. NATO willfully blew up with meticulous accuracy
      containers of toxic chemicals with the intention of creating an
      ecological nightmare.

      At the outset of the War, NATO had reassured World opinion that "precise
      targeting" using sophisticated weaponry was intended to avoid
      "collateral damage" including environmental hazards:

      "We do everything we possibly can to avoid unnecessary collateral
      damage. We take it very seriously, work very hard at doing that, spend a
      lot of time planning for the missions."1

      At the Pancevo petrochemical complex located in the outskirts of
      Belgrade, however, exactly the opposite occurred. "State of the art"
      aerial surveillance and satellite thermal image detection were not only
      used to disable Yugoslavia's petrochemical industry; they were willfully
      applied to trigger an environmental disaster.

      The air raids on the Pancevo complex started on April 4th 1999 and
      continued relentlessly until the 7th of June. The Pancevo complex also
      included an oil refinery facility (built with technical support from
      Texaco) and a Nitrogen Processing Plant producing fertilizer for
      Yugoslav agriculture. The petrochemical plant was bombed extensively (41
      bombs and 7 missile attacks). The bombed areas were within less than two
      hundred meters from residential buildings.

      At the beginning of the war, workers at the plant were actively involved
      in removing toxic materials from the site, emptying several large tanks
      and containers of chemicals precisely to avert the risks of "collateral
      damage". Little did they realize that NATO was watching them through
      air-to-ground surveillance systems and satellite images. Using thermal
      detection, NATO military planners knew which of the containers had been
      emptied and which remained full.

      How does this work?

      All objects in the Pancevo plant --including the containers of toxic
      chemicals-- emit infrared radiation. A thermal imager from a spy
      satellite or an aircraft can detect infrared radiation emitted from any
      object situated on the petrochemical plant and convert its readings into
      a high-resolution video or snap picture.

      The thermal imager can detect temperature differentials as small as 0.1
      degrees centigrade which enables NATO planners to easily "categorize"
      and distingush between full and empty containers. NATO warplanes were
      equipped with various advanced imaging systems including
      infrared/electro-optical sensors. Thermal satellite images were relayed
      to the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Vicenza, Italy where the
      bombing raids had been carefully scheduled. Other advanced surveillance
      systems were used including small unmanned predator (UAV) drones and
      high altitude U2 spy planes. In the words of a Pentagon spokesman, the
      U2 "snaps a picture from very high altitude, beams it back in what we
      call a reach-back, to the States where it is very quickly analyzed". And
      from there, "the right targeting data" is relayed to the CAOC in
      Vincenza which then "passes [it] on to people in the cockpit".2

      NATO planners also had detailed information on the layout of the plant,
      which had been designed and built on contract with a US multinational
      engineering company Foster Wheeler (a firm specializing in the
      construction of petrochemical and polymer plants). NATO knew exactly
      where things were. In a cruel irony, US investment in Yugoslavia
      (financed with loans from the World Bank) was being bombed by Uncle Sam.
      Did the pilots sitting in the cockpit know that they were destroying a
      plant which was "Made in America"?

      A large number of the containers had been emptied. By using thermal
      images, NATO was able to identify which of the tanks were still filled
      to the brim with toxic chemicals. Among these noxious liquids were
      containers of ethylene-dichloride (EDC), ethylene, chlorine,
      chlorine-hydrogen, propylene and vinyl chloride monomers (VCM). Well
      documented by environmentalists, the VCM monomer used to produce
      plastics (eg. PVC resin) is a dangerous cancerogenic contaminant (see
      photo 2). Vinyl chloride also has the potential to cause neurological
      and liver damage, as well as damage to the fetus causing serious birth

      If NATO's intent were solely to disable the plant without risking
      "collateral" environmental damage, they could have done it by smart
      bombing the equipment and machinery. Why did they also decide to hit
      with utmost accuracy the tanks containing noxious liquids?

      The "smart bombs" were not dumb; they went where they were told to go.
      NATO had scrupulously singled out the containers, tanks and reservoirs,
      which still contained toxic materials. According to the petrochemical
      plant director, NATO did not hit a single empty container: "This was not
      accidental; they chose to hit those that were full and these chemicals
      spilled into the canal leading to the Danube". Moreover, according to
      the plant director, the ethylene-dichloride (EDC) spillovers had
      contaminated 10 hectares of land on and in the vicinity of the plant. 3

      When the smart bombs hit their lethal targets at Pancevo (see photos
      below), noxious fluids and fumes were released into the atmosphere,
      water and soil. The containers were deliberately blown up or perforated.
      The soil at the petrochemical complex is still soaked with toxic
      ethylene-dichloride. According to a report of the Regional Environment
      Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC):

      "More than one thousand tons of ethylene dichloride spilled from the
      Pancevo petrochemical complex into the Danube [through the canal which
      links the plant to the river]. Over a thousand tons of natrium hydroxide
      were spilled from the Pancevo petrochemical complex. Nearly 1,000 tons
      of hydrogen chloride spilled from Pancevo into the Danube River"4

      Eight tons of mercury also escaped from the petrochemical complex
      spilling into the soil. The wastewater treatment plant was also bombed
      thereby contributing to exacerbating the ecological impacts. 5

      NATO military strategists knew precisely what they were doing and what
      would be the likely consequences. At the neighboring oil refinery, two
      NATO missiles had hit on April 4th the refinery's control rooms killing
      three staff members. The strikes had set the plant on fire, reducing it
      to a toxic wreck. The objective was not to avoid an environmental
      disaster. The objective was to create an environmental disaster (see
      photos). NATO was expecting that by ruthlessly bombing Pancevo among
      other civilian sites, this would intimdiate Belgrade into accepting the
      Rambouillet Agreement including its infamous Military Appendix which
      essentially gave NATO the right to occupy all parts of Yugoslavia.

      In the wake of the bombings, the Greens from Germany and experts from
      the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) as well as other
      groups visited the Pancevo plant. The UNEP report dismisses the
      environmental impacts caused by the bombings while underscoring in its
      main conclusions that Pancevo and other petrochemical plants in the
      country were an ecological hazard prior to the bombings due to lax
      environmental standards.6 The UNEP report is a carefully worded
      cover-up. It whitewashes NATO; it downplays the seriousness of the
      environmental catastrophe, while placing the blame (without supporting
      evidence) on the Yugoslav authorities. Tacitly upholding the legitimacy
      of the Western military alliance, UNEP's findings are in overt
      contradiction with those of other scientific studies including that of
      the Regional Environment Center for Central And Eastern Europe (REC)
      prepared for the European Commission (see footnote 4).

      The complicity of UNEP --a specialized agency of the UN with a track
      record of integrity-- is yet another symptom of the deterioration of the
      United Nations system which now plays an underhand in covering up NATO
      war crimes.


      1. Statement of General Charles Wald of the Pentagon, Department of
      Defense Press Briefing, Washington, 12 April 1999.

      2. Department of Defense Press Briefing, Washington, May 14th, 1999.

      3. Interview conducted by the author in Pancevo, March 2000.

      4. See the report of the REC entitled Assessment of the Environmental
      Impact of Military Activities During the Yugoslavia Conflict at
      http://www.rec.org/REC/Announcements/yugo/background.html )

      5. Interview conducted by the author in Pancevo, March 2000.

      6. The UNEP report entitled The Kosovo Conflict: Consequences for the
      Environment & Human Settlements prepared for the European Commission can
      be consulted at
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