French campaigners descend on DU firing range
The weekend of the 5th November began with a public meeting on DU in Bourges. The city of Bourges is close to a firing range called le Polygone de Bourges. Not only has le Polygone been used for test firing all of France’s depleted uranium 105mm and 120mm armour piercing rounds, it has also witnessed some extraordinary experiments with other radioactive materials. One such experiment involved spraying an area with short-lived radionuclides and then driving a Soviet tank over it to assess the level of exposure through its underside.
The public meeting, entitled For the Truth on Uranium Weapons was organised by Mouvement de la Paix of Bourges. It was thought to be the first time a meeting has been held on this issue in the city. Opening the meeting, the Vice-President of the Department’s General Council, Yann Gallut (Socialist) said ”I associate myself with the truth. The fact that I’m present here is a clear political statement and sign. I hope that your questions on transparency and other questions will be answered.”
Following his introduction there were a range of speakers, including Alain Acariès of Association des Victimes de la Guerre du Golfe (AVIGOLF) whose son, Gulf War veteran Ludovic died a few years after his mission in the Balkans from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Other speakers included Abraham Béhar of IPPNW France who highlighted the medical aspects of the issue and Patrice Bouveret, President of the Research and Documentation Centre on Peace and Conflicts, who discussed methods of undertaking cooperative research into depleted uranium weapons.
Ria Verjauw of the Belgian Coalition Stop Uranium Weapons spoke about domestic and international campaigning, while Roland Nivet, Vice President of Mouvement de la Paix spoke on implementing the DU campaign into that of their national programme.
The meeting concluded with a clear statement from the moderator: “There is no transparency at all on the production, development, testing and trade of DU weapons in France. France will do everything to block a campaign to ban DU weapons. We activists have an important job to do in France. A ban on these weapons will only come through pressure from the public.”
It was clear from the meeting that there are still many unanswered questions concerning le Polygone: how many test happen there? How many rounds have been fired? How frequently are they fired? How bad is the contamination and what plans are there for the development of new weapons?
A delegation from Bourges announced their intention to visit Brussels to join the Belgian Coalition’s DU Weapons: made in France action day event where they intend to ask these questions and others to the French Ambassador to Belgium.
On the 6th November French and Belgian campaigners indulged in what they described as a circuit itinerant (goodwill tour) around le Polygone de Bourges.
The range is 30km long and 3-4km wide, so bicycles and cars decorated with banners were employed to ferry the campaigners around the site. One of the cars towed a trailer featuring a tree. The tree had five umbrellas attached to it to represent the five continents – the tree the need to protect the environment.
The procession stopped in the villages of Soye, Crosses, Avord and Savigny which border the range to distribute materials to local people.
Photos courtesy of Jean Frémiot