Bosnian evacuees out of war zone: Sixteen sick and wounded expected to arrive today

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN with shrapnel and gunshot wounds, heart disease and neurological disorders are among 16 victims of the war in Bosnia who are expected to arrive in Britain later today for emergency medical treatment as the latest airlift of sick and injured gathers momentum.

A team of British specialists flew to Ancona, Italy, to assess the needs of the ten adults and six children transferred there from the Croatian port of Split.

Five of the children were airlifted by the Royal Navy from the besieged city of Tuzla on Saturday. Two of them have war injuries: a seven-year-old boy with shrapnel fragments in his head, and a nine- year-old with gunshot wounds to the body and legs.

A one-year-old boy needs treatment for water on the brain; a three-year-old has curvature of the spine, and there are two others suffering from congenital heart disease.

Another 14 children - some with leukaemia, heart and eye problems - and four adults were evacuated by Royal Navy helicopters from the town of Visoko yesterday. Dense fog had forced cancellation of the rescue mission at one stage.

The 29-strong party, including 11 relatives, was flown to Split, and will be transported to Ancona. Some of the Visoko evacuees are expected to be among those whom the Government has accepted for treatment in Britain.

Sally Becker, a British aid worker whose Operation Angel is said to have galvanised relief efforts, was allowed through Croat lines to the city of Mostar early on Sunday morning, bringing out 20 patients and 22 relatives. They were travelling in convoy to Split, escorted by the British Royal Military Police.

The medical team that will accompany the evacuees back to Britain is led by Tony Redmond, a surgeon who has experience of treating the victims of many conflicts. It includes Professor David Southall, a leading paediatrician, and Mark Prescott, a trauma surgeon.

All three work at the Staffordshire Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent, where Britain's Trauma Centre for the treatment of severely injured patients is located. They are veterans of the Operation Irma airlift in August, when Irma Hadzimuratovic, six, was flown from Sarajevo for treatment in Britain following news coverage of her case and public pressure on the Government to intervene.

The Heartlands Hospital Trust in east Birmingham, which specialises in chest surgery, said it was expecting to take 12 of the casualties: two children and all of the adults aged between 19 and 44.

Robert Naylor, chief executive, said last night: 'Christmas is normally a quiet time for us. We think this is a wonderful gift to give to the Bosnians, and it will not have any impact on the patients in the hospital or the community that we serve.'

The hospital has organised an interpreter, and set aside a ward for the Bosnians. The remaining children will be treated at the Walsgrave Hospital, Coventry; the Midland Centre for Neurosurgery, Smethwick; and the Groby Road Hospital, Leicester.

The United Nations International Organisation for Migration, which is overseeing the rescue mission, has chartered a 94-seat jet from Air Bristol.

Brian Beal, managing director, said that the company had been told there would be 39 children and 16 adults in total - the sick and injured and their relatives. The jet is expected to leave Filton airport near Birmingham at 8am today and is expected to return at about 1.30pm.

Winter in Bosnia, page 17