MITROVICA, Serbia-Montenegro -- Roma rights groups say that up to 31 Roma, often called Gypsies, have been killed by diseases brought on by lead poisoning in Kosovo refugee camps, a problem that grew acute 6 1/2 years ago. That was when the U.N. mission that controls this province set up three camps in the northern part of Mitrovica for Roma who were displaced when ethnic Albanians took their homes across town at the end of the Kosovo war in 1999.
The death toll is especially large for a local Roma community of 570 people, and no one disputes the main source of pollution. All three refugee camps lie within 200 yards of three huge mounds of industrial waste, the byproduct of a lead smelting factory that operated from the 1920s until 2000.
Health specialists say children are particularly vulnerable to this kind of pollution. Soon after the Roma moved in, the United Nations realized that they were living on contaminated land. Several reports by the U.N. mission and the World Health Organization dating to 2000 recommended their immediate removal.
The mission is planning to move families from all three camps to refurbished army barracks, where it says they will be safe.