Yugoslavia Has Long-Standing Poison Gas Program by Karel Knip Rotterdam NRC Handelsblad 24 Apr 99 pp 1, 5 Rotterdam -- At the beginning of this month, UCK fighters claimed that the Serbs in Kosovo were using hallucinogenic gases against them. President Clinton responded with the comment that Belgrade knows very well that the use of nerve gases represents an escalation of the conflict. The Geneva Protocol, drawn up in 1925 and signed in 1929 by Yugoslavia, a nation founded just 11 years previously, bans the use of chemical weapons, of "asphyxiating and poisonous gases," as they were called at the time. This is the only treaty against the use of chemical weapons that Yugoslavia has signed. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), signed in 1993, which bans not just the use but also the development and production of chemical weapons, came just too late for Yugoslavia in its old form. The new Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) has so far not signed the treaty. This is a painful truth, because since 1993 it has been known that the old Yugoslavia had a very extensive chemical weapons program. Its extent was revealed quite unexpectedly in December 1993 by Croatian Professor Zlatko Binenfeld during a symposium in Warsaw on implementing the CWC. Binenfeld, a Yugoslav Army adviser with the rank of general, was attached to a laboratory for organic chemistry at Zagreb University. Now dead, he published works on nerve gas as early as 1966 and during the 1970's regularly attended conferences in the West. For insiders it cannot have been any secret that Yugoslavia was working on nerve gases. The medical database Medline contains an astounding number of articles (most from Serbo-Croatian magazines) on research into the working of defense against the typical nerve gases tabun, sarin, soman, and VX, reports on mustard gas and BZ, and in particular on cyanide poisoning. Most of the articles were written by researchers from Belgrade attached to the Military Technical Institute. In Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Zagreb (Croatia) the two other centers of research into defense against chemical weapons were clearly less closely linked to the Army. But none of the Medline articles refer to any technical production details, although an article in the Journal of the Serbian Chemical Society gives the impression that production is taking place. In the years following Binenfeld's revelations in 1993 it has been possible to build up a more complete picture. The increasing US interest in Yugoslavia resulted in the Bosnia Country Handbook that contained new information. The US human rights organization Human Rights Watch, which itself carried out a great deal of revealing research in Yugoslavia and published its findings in March 1997, and the company Applied Science and Analysis Inc. owned by US Colonel Richard Price, have done a lot of work to further disseminate the information. The Federation of American Scientists has also recently become involved. The various reports largely correspond. Yugoslavia first began producing gases for military purposes in 1958. The principal research and production center was close to Mostar in Herzegovina. When it became clear that Mostar would lie outside the new Yugoslavia (it is in the Republic of Bosnia), production at this site ceased on 1 January 1992. A year later the installation was dismantled and moved to Lucani in Serbia, to the existing Milan Blagojevic explosives factory (since destroyed by NATO). A large storage depot for methylphosphonyldichloride (a raw material for sarin and soman) in Hadzici near Sarajevo was also moved to Lucani. Three other nerve gas production sites were already to be found in Serbia: at the site of the large Prva Iskra concern in Barie (near Belgrade) and at the Merima and Miloje Zakie plants in Krusevac. Merima produces principally detergents, soap, glycerol, fatty acids, and cosmetics and perhaps makes, or rather made, raw materials which were further processed by Miloje Zakic. Miloje Zakic was known as a producer of tires, gunpowder, and dynamite. Prva Iskra was on the NATO target list, but it is not clear whether or not it has been destroyed. A report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published in January 1998 expressed concern about the ecological consequences of bombing poison gas plants. It is not completely clear what chemical weapons are now being produced where. The aforementioned sources report that the total Yugoslav chemical weapons arsenal contains sarin, mustard gas, BZ, and the tear gases CN and CS (all in large quantities), together with quite traditional products such as phosgene, chlorine picric acid, cyanogen chloride, adamsite, lewisite, and other materials, often only in laboratory quantities. BZ (also known as QNB) is a dangerous hallucinogenic also produced by the United States in the 1950's and 1960's, but quickly discontinued and destroyed due to its unreliability. It is also established that Yugoslavia has incorporated the chemical products in weapons: in bombs, grenades, missiles, and mines. It is also said that in the past they have even been tested, close to Mount Krivolak in Macedonia. There are also well-documented reports of close cooperation between Iraq and Yugoslavia in missile development and chemical weapon production. The important question is how reluctant Yugoslavia was and is regarding the use of chemical weapons. Has the Yugoslav Army ever used nerve gases? It is more or less certain that in 1995 Muslim defenders of the Bosnian town of Zepa were attacked with a highly irritating gas which forced them to leave their trenches. The impression is that it was a modern form of tear gas. This was not lethal but the after-effects lasted several days. There are also persistent rumors, circulated by Human Rights Watch in particular, that Muslim citizens and soldiers seeking a safe refuge after the fall of Srebrenica, were attacked with BZ grenades. HRW has deduced this from in-depth interviews with 35 victims of the suspected attack. The hallucinations and sudden aggressiveness after total lethargy are both indications that it was BZ. But it is notable that the British researcher Dr. Alastair Hay of Leeds, who conducted the interviews, writes in his own report (Med. Confl. Surviv., April-June 1998) that it is possible that the mental phenomena were the result of stress, exhaustion, hunger, and drinking contaminated water. Much less documented is the rumor that chemical weapons were used against the Bosnian Muslims between 1992 and 1995: mortar grenades containing chlorine gas manufactured in Tuzla. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. COPYING AND DISSEMINATION IS PROHIBITED WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE COPYRIGHT OWNERS.