West's clamorous compassion met with contempt: There are 14,000 wounded children in Sarajevo, reports Tony Barber

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The Independent Online
BRIGADIER Vere Hayes, a British commander and one of the most senior United Nations officers in Bosnia, was in confident mood, telling reporters in Sarajevo's bullet-scarred Holiday Inn: 'There is still a military siege. But there has never been a humanitarian strangulation of Sarajevo.'

The next morning, Saturday, Muhamed and Vasvija Uzicanin wheeled their five-year-old daughter, Emina, into Kosevo hospital. The hospital is suffering from critical shortages of food and medicine. It has no running water or electricity, so the equipment for making accurate diagnoses is unusable.

Emina, a pretty little girl with a winning smile, was dressed in a red shirt and a denim skirt. She made no attempt to rise from her pushchair. It would have been pointless: she has no left leg. Surgeons amputated it after she was wounded by shellfire on 31 May. She was also hit in the chest and abdomen.

Sarajevo's threadbare medical services have no hope of providing this Bosnian girl with the artificial limb she needs to restore even a semblance of normality to her life. Her parents took her to the hospital after listening to a Sarajevo radio broadcast which seemed to suggest Western countries were evacuating all wounded children from the city.

The Bosnian health authorities estimate that there are more than 14,000 wounded children in Sarajevo. Another 1,500 are dead or missing. In Bosnia, there are almost 39,000 wounded children. The evacuation of a handful yesterday to Britain and Sweden was like extracting a snowflake from an avalanche.

Patrick Peillod, a Frenchman who is the chief UN medical officer in Bosnia, can barely hold back his contempt for the sudden surge of official Western compassion, as clamorous as it is selective. 'I hate this supermarket attitude. Sarajevo is not a supermarket where governments can pick up the cases they want. Some countries are screaming for children. Sometimes they are reluctant to provide us here with food.'

Lutvo Hodzic, head of Kosevo's paediatric clinic, is equally scornful. 'Most of our 14,000 wounded children in Sarajevo are at home, not in hospital. Why all this television attention on a handful of hospital cases? If the war carries on at this rate, in ten years there will be no children in Sarajevo.'

Outside the entrance to Kosevo Hospital, a metal sign says 'Boln'; it should say 'Bolnica' (Hospital), but shellfire has blasted away the last three letters. Beneath a blazing sun on Saturday four boys, limbs as thin as poles, surrounded a group of Western visitors near the hospital's unrefrigerated morgue. Each stuck his fingers into his mouth. 'Eat, eat, I want to eat,' pleaded one boy.

Nearby, hospital staff queued at a water truck to fill up plastic containers that used to hold cooking oil. 'There is absolutely no running water in the hospital,' said Dr Edina Torlak. 'In such conditions diagnoses are impossible. They depend on electricity. Without using our equipment, we cannot know what is going on inside a child's brain.'

Dr Torlak had cared for Belma Salaka, a four-year-old girl with meningitis and encephalitis who was evacuated to London yesterday. Belma's mother, Ziba, risked death on the night of 1 August by running with her to the hospital across the sniper-ringed runway of Sarajevo airport.

Thanks to their parents' determination to publicise their cases, some children were put on the UN's evacuation list. Adis Avdic, 5, whose spine was damaged by mortar fire three months ago, was also flown to London yesterday with his mother, Amela. 'I was sure I could do it. I just hope every mother in Sarajevo will be in my position,' she said before they left.

But what of the tens of thousands of other wounded children and adults condemned to endure the 'non-strangulation' of Sarajevo? And what of other UN-declared 'safe areas' for Muslims?

Peter Kessler, a UN refugee affairs spokesman, said: 'What is most important is that governments don't lose sight that this crisis is continuing and that there are urgent needs in Tuzla, Zenica and elsewhere. We need funds for Bosnia through the winter. We need technicians to repair equipment that has been overused and broken during the war. The international community can't forget about refugees and displaced people for a couple of patients.'