'A nurse walked by with a plastic bag containing an amputated leg': Amid horrifying scenes in a Sarajevo hospital, Robert Fisk hears the tragic stories of some of the victims of the bloody conflict in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
JUST BEFORE they sawed off Sabahudin Sokolovic's right leg, they told him that these days false legs were very professionally made, good enough for a 22-year-old man to hobble around on for the rest of his life.

'My family were just happy that I wasn't going to die like the other 20 men who were with me when the Serbs attacked,' the Muslim soldier said as he lay on his stretcher waiting to become an amputee. He looked at me from time to time as he talked, his right hand tearing at his hair to deflect his agony, his face screwed up with pain, his head rolling back and forth towards the sunlight that streamed into the corridor of the Kosevo hospital.

Dr Faruk Kulenovic had put the wounded fighter's stretcher in the corridor for a simple reason. There is no electricity in Sarajevo. He would have to operate by sunlight, in a little room to the left of the corridor, using anaesthetics that would kill the pain in the lower half of Mr Sokolovic's body, injected at the base of his spine. But he would be conscious as they sawed his leg off.

He had been prepared to talk before the operation. 'After the attack, we crawled away and three of us made it - we had to swim a river. My friends got me here with the bullet still in my leg. The doctors thought they could save it but the circulation wouldn't restart.' He smiled in an embarrassed way, as if his imminent amputation indicated some inherent flaw in his character.

No, he said, he did not regret being a Bosnian soldier and he did not wish to condemn the Serbs for his wounds, though he pointed a finger up towards the Serb-held distant mountain ridges above Sarajevo when I asked him who was to blame. 'The West did nothing for us - they stood by while we were surrounded in our capital city,' he said.

By the time he was in the makeshift operating theatre and the nurses were peeling the dressing off his doomed leg, they were bringing in two-year-old Ajdin Zahiragic, wounded in the head by a sniper as he played outside his home.

The tiny boy wailed on his massive stretcher as blood poured from the left side of his head, watched all the time by a pretty young woman with a bloody wound in her hip. The woman was Ajdin's mother, Aida, and her story was a truly wicked one. Ajdin has been playing in the street when a Serb sniper fired a single round at the little boy. Aida heard him scream and threw herself across his body to protect him. So the sniper shot her too.

In the converted operating theatre, Dr Kulenovic sawed cleanly through the wounded fighter's knee. The soldier lapsed mercifully into unconsciousness as his limb was slid unceremoniously off the stretcher.

A few yards away, they brought in a pale, middle-aged man swamped in blood, rolling around on his stretcher, the blood dribbling from a wound in his neck. Astonishingly, 54-year-old Rasim Leventa sat up. 'I work for a garbage collectors' company,' he said as if reciting his curriculum vitae. 'I was only walking in the street when the chetnik (Serb) sniper shot me in the neck. The bullet went through one part of my neck and out the other.'

A hospital employee came to swab down the stretchers lying in the corners - the snipers' victims were coming in at the rate of five an hour - and a nurse walked by nonchalantly with a black plastic bag containing an amputated human right leg.

Dr Kulenovic was now relaxing in the corridor, chain-smoking, sweat still covering his arms and chest, looking across at the snipers' afternoon's work.

'Soldiers expect to die but I have no words for the men who shoot these innocent people,' he said. 'They are not human. Not even beasts - animals kill for food, not for pleasure. There is something evil in their soul.'

Outside in the bright afternoon air, there was a roar of sound and an American fighter-bomber swept over the roof of the hospital, its rocket pods silhouetted against the light clouds, enforcing that famous 'no-fly zone'. A cynical political finale for just another routine, bloody Sarajevo day.