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"Ethnic-cleansing weapons" within 10 years: report




Agence France Presse 

LONDON, Jan 21 (AFP) - Advances in genetic research raise the possibility
of biological weapons, available within 10 years, that would attack one
ethnic group but leave others untouched, according to a report published
Thursday.

Given the availability of bomb-making instructions and "recipes" on the
Internet, the British Medical Association said, the Biological and Toxin
Weapons Convention of 1972 needs "urgent" strengthening.

While "genetic weapons which target a particular ethnic group are not
currently a practical possibility", the report concludes "it would be
complacent to assume they could never be developed in the future".

The report "Biotechnology, weapons and humanity" by the BMA, which
represents all Britain's doctors, predicted their existence within "five
or 10 years" and warned of their attractiveness to terrorists.

"Scientific knowledge has been quickly exploited for weapons development
in the past," said Vivienne Nathanson, of the BMA, adding she saw no
reason why this trend would alter with genetics.

The report explains that genetic research into humans leads almost every
day to further understanding of the differences in disparate human groups.

Such differences were apparent in blood groups or varying resistence to
disease, such as developed by certain groups in west Africa against
malaria.

Two key developments were highlighted by the experts. One is the Human
Genome Project which aims to map the entire human genetic blueprint by
2003.

The other is gene therapy, a technology still in its infancy, which uses
"vectors" such as harmless viruses to carry corrective DNA into
malfunctioning cells.

The BMA warned that theoretically nothing could stop the development of
"viral vectors or micro-organisms" (bacteria, virus, etc) capable of
targeting an enemy group with a particular genetic make-up while sparing
their neighbours.

"In short, if there are distinguishing DNA sequences between groups, and
if these can be targeted in a way that is known to produce a harmful
outcome, a genetic weapon is possible," said the report.

Far from being science fiction, it cited a report in the strategic
military magazine Jane's on worries expressed by US Defence Secretary
William Cohen in June 1997 about "certain types of pathogens that would be
ethnic specific so that they could eliminate certain ethnic groups".

"The scientific community is very close to being able to manufacture" such
weapons, said Cohen.

There have also been sporadic reports of Israeli developing such weapons
to use against Arabs and white South Africans targeting blacks in a
similar fashion.

On November 15, Britain's Sunday Times reported Israel was working on an
"ethnic" biological weapon which will hit Arabs and not Jews by
distinguishing between their genetic differences.

Quoting Israeli military sources and western intelligence services, the
report said researchers were trying to isolate distinctive "Arab" genes in
order to develop a virus, transmitted by air or water, which would target
them specifically.

The programme, based in the top secret Ness Ziona germ warfare laboratory
south of Tel-Aviv, is complicated by the fact that Jews and Arabs are
genetically close, both being of semitic origin, the report said.

The BMA did not argue that all genetic research should stop, recognising
its possibilities for saving lives and advancing medical treatment.

But the report stressed: "Getting rid of of weapons once they are produced
is very difficult; governments may be reluctant to give up weapons that
the rest of the world finds unacceptable."

The BMA said it was particularly anxious to see effective verification
procedures introduced to ensure compliance with the biological weapons
ban, and stressed that vigilance by doctors and scientists was "vital".

"We still have the chance to strengthen the ban on these weapons," said
Nathanson. "We must do so now and we must make sure the ban is policed
effectively."

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