Bell reflects on toll of Sarajevo's war: Maggie Brown talks to the BBC foreign correspondent wounded by mortar bomb shrapnel while in Bosnia

MARTIN BELL, the BBC reporter injured in Sarajevo, is sitting up in bed, looking tanned, burly and well. We last saw him on BBC Televsion last Tuesday, making the news, rather than reporting the war.

Then Mr Bell, 53, was on the ground, in his trade-mark white suit, clutching his groin after being hit by mortar shrapnel while speaking to camera in the Muslim-controlled part of the city. It was a reminder of the constant danger endured by those trying to piece together the conflict for audiences sitting safely at home.

Now, 48 hours later, the BBC's foreign correspondent, tough veteran of 11 wars, welcomes visitors to his luxury room in the Princess Grace hospital in London with a firm handshake.

A bottle of champagne stands waiting; his girlfriend, Katerina Geissler, is by his side after travelling from Berlin. 'In myself I feel absolutely fine,' he said, as he talked with intense, compressed vividness.

The drip to which he is attached is the only visible reminder of the deep flesh wound to his lower abdomen which missed all vital organs, but led to two operations, one in the UN basement field hospital and a second after being rushed to London. However, one small piece of shrapnel will remain embedded for life, too dangerous to remove. 'My first thought was, 'Oh God they've got me at last'. But I knew within a fraction of a second it wasn't serious. I never lost consciousness. Had nothing more than bad abdominal pain.'

The war in the former Yugoslavia is taking a terrible toll of those sent to report it. Some estimate more than 30 journalists have been killed in a year, more than the toll of western journalists in 10 years of war in Vietnam. Mr Bell believes, it is more dangerous than any of the wars he has reported upon.

There is, he said, absolutely no safe place in the city, the shelling and attacks are indiscriminate. The trick, every time you venture out, is to know where the snipers are, up in the hills, to the right. The choice lies in going down the exposed main street fast, or the back streets more slowly.

And you have to be accompanied by an interpreter and keep asking questions - 'One of the secrets of staying alive.' He was caught out while reporting from the shelter of a large factory because the mortar bomb came from an unexpected source.

Some of the best footage of the fighting, he said, had been taken by camerman Nigel Bateson, after leaving his camera on its tripod on the balcony of the BBC team's flat while he went inside to cook spaghetti. It was the photographers taking still pictures who were in the greatest danger, Mr Bell said, because they had to get so close.

He said he had thought a lot about whether the Serbs deliberately targeted journalists to prevent accurate reporting, concluding: 'My own feeling is that there are a lot of snipers and freelance operators who have no function in life but to snipe and fire mortars. There are not so many targets in no-man's land but ourselves and the United Nations. I think they kind of shot at us as easy and available targets. There is not much discipline.'

Journalists are tempted to overestimate their own importance, but in the former Yugoslavia they had a vital role and function he said. 'There are no independent witnesses. The UN is pretty chaotic. There are no impartial observers, apart from the press. The two sides do behave better when the press is there. They like you to be there for an exchange of prisoners, to ensure the sides stick to the rules.'

Does he have doubts about what he is doing? 'A still voice says this is a stupid way to earn a living. On the other hand, I couldn't do a desk job, I'm the only BBC journalist who can't use a computer.'

And will he go back? The answer seems to be yes, but not yet. 'I'm not a war freak. I'm interested in a fascinating little hinge of history, especially a country with more history than it can consume locally. What you are seeing is not just a clash of good guys and bad guys. It's a story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

' But I'll be quite happy never to hear a gunshot again in my life. I'm in pretty good shape, planning a fairly long convalesence, I'll not go back in a hurry. I have never refused an assignment, but I have a bit of thinking to do.'

Peace conference, page 8

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?