The horrific scenes were discovered 30 miles north-west of Sarajevo in the town of Fojnica, which only a few weeks ago was described as 'an island of peace' by General Philippe Morillon, then the UN commander in Bosnia.
When Muslim-led Bosnian government forces wrested Fojnica from Croats on Friday, up to 5,000 of the town's 6,500 people fled. UN relief workers said that doctors and nurses had joined the panic-stricken exodus, leaving hundreds of sick or crippled patients at two medical institutions to fend for themselves.
A Canadian patrol inspected the shell-battered home for retarded people briefly on Sunday and found 230 patients, 100 of them children including babies, left there without care. Yesterday a UN relief convoy bearing food and medicine reached the home and discovered the bodies of two children aged between one and two. A further five babies among the 230 patients were in critical condition. None of the group had access to lavatories.
'They appear to have died from simple lack of care. We have found no food here, a little medicine. But the patients had not been treated for three days,' Jerrie Hulme, a UN refugee official, said by radio from Fojnica. 'The sanitary conditions are appalling, the health conditions ghastly,' he said. 'The situation is absolutely 100 per cent desperate.'
Peter Kessler, UNHCR spokesman in Sarajevo, said: 'Mentally handicapped people, including children, of Serb, Muslim and Croat origin have been left alone in the middle of a war. Some were found locked in rooms.'
A team of UN and French doctors was planning to stay the night to clean up the patients' squalid quarters, cook for them and provide running water.
UN sources said at the weekend that 30 crippled hospital patients in wheelchairs had also been left behind in the exodus but there was no word yesterday about their fate.
Ethnic cleansing made easy, page 9
Robert Block, page 19