Sixteen wounded Bosnians to be treated by NHS: Delay blamed on negotiations with ethnic factions

SIXTEEN Bosnians, including half a dozen children, are to be evacuated to Britain for medical treatment on Monday, Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said yesterday. They will all go to four hospitals in the West Midlands, the Refugee Council said last night.

As officials insisted that delays had been caused by the warring factions in Bosnia, Irma Hadzimuratovic, the six-year-old girl from Sarajevo who has become a symbol of the war, is still in hospital unable to breath for herself.

Irma, who suffered meningitis as a result of the shrapnel that lodged in her back and stomach, is paralysed from the neck down. A spokesman for Great Ormond Street hospital, where Irma has been cared for since she was evacuated, said that her doctors did not know if she would ever be able to breathe without the aid of a ventilator.

The new patients are being evacuated from some of the most fiercely contested areas of central Bosnia, where the aid agencies have constant problems in getting humanitarian aid through to civilians.

Peter Kessler, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Zagreb, said yesterday that the patients would come from Tuzla, Mostar and Novi Bila.

Specialist medical teams have been sent all over central Bosnia to identify patients in genuine need of evacuation and 89 cases have been approved, 43 of them children. They will be evacuated to the US, Italy, Spain and Austria as well as Britain.

Mr Kessler said the patients would probably be evacuated on Tuesday - four days later than planned.

He said the Bosnian Serbs had been demanding licence plate numbers and identification cards from Canadian forces who would be moving some of the patients. Negotiations with other ethnic factions had also been difficult.

All the patients destined for Britain will be transported first to the Croatian port of Split - those from Mostar in ambulances under armoured escort and those from Tuzla and Novi Bila by helicopter. They will then be flown to the air base at Ancona, Italy, where they will join the medical evacuation flight to Britain.

Mrs Bottomley told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: 'Our primary effort must be in providing medical supplies and aid in former Yugoslavia and we are the largest supplier in Bosnia. I am satisfied that these are appropriate patients, children and adults, with very serious injuries and ones where the NHS will be able to provide help.'

Of the eight Bosnian children evacuated to Britain this summer, three, including Irma, remain in hospital. Belma Salaka, aged three, a medical emergency from Saravejo who had meningitis, is receiving rehabilitation care. Adis Avdic, aged five, a war vicitim, is paraplegic and is being treated at Stoke Mandeville hospital.

The Independent's Bosnia Appeal has raised more than pounds 40,000 for 15 charities working there. If you want to support one or more please send a separate cheque for each donation, worded as below, to: Bosnia Appeal, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

1 War Child; 2 Victims of War Appeal (former Yugoslavia) - this for the Red Cross; 3 Care; 4 Cafod (Bosnia); 5 Christian Aid (Bosnia); 6 Edinburgh Direct Aid; 7 Feed the Children; 8 Help the Aged Former Yugoslavia Appeal; 9 Islamic Relief Bosnia Fund; 10 Marie Stopes International (Bosnia); 11 Oxfam; 12 The Refugee Council; 13 Save the Children Fund; 14 Scottish European Aid; 15 UNA Trust Bosnia.

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