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US troops claim Gulf 'disease'

United States Gulf war veterans claimed yesterday that they were suffering from a mystery disease as a result of the conflict, but the US army says it has no evidence that its soldiers suffered serious health damage because of exposure to depleted uranium ammunition or fumes from the oil fires in Kuwait.

At least 1,600 US soldiers complain that since the war they have suffered severe pain in muscles and joints, sores, weight loss and other symptoms. At a congressional hearing in Washington yesterday victims of the disease, for which no precise cause has been found, demanded compensation.

The US army is sceptical. Depleted uranium ammunition was used by US tanks during the war, but Major-General Ronald R Blanck, commanding officer at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, said 22 US soldiers wounded when their vehicles were accidentally hit by depleted uranium shells showed no symptoms.

Gen Blanck said, however, that he was concerned about the illness. He said: 'The symptoms suffered by these soldiers have included malaise/fatigue, muscle/joint pain, intermittent fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, thick saliva, thinning/loss of hair, weight loss, skin rash and bleeding gums.'

Soldiers and sailors suffering these symptoms were often far from the battlefield, indicating that their injuries could not have been caused by the smoke from the Kuwait fires or the depleted uranium. Tom Lane, a navy engineer who served at al-Jubail, a port 250 miles from the front, says he started suffering fatigue, leg sores and pain in his hip soon after the war.

Fear of Iraqi use of poison gas or chemical weapons led the US army to inoculate many troops before the war. A possible explanation for the illness being examined by the army is long- term reaction to the vaccinations.