'But tomorrow I may be shot': Sarajevans tell Steve Crawshaw that helping a few children only scratches the surface of the catastrophe; outside help is needed
Sunday 19 July 1992
It was a practical question, but one to which her mother, Prema, could find no reply. Two hours later, as Prema stood by the bus that was to take her 10-year-old daughter out of Sarajevo and abroad, she angrily wiped the tears off her cheeks as she told the story. Ina waved from the bus, gave the thumbs-up and gestured insistently that her mother should not cry.
Ina was one of about 100 children who left Sarajevo for the West in French buses yesterday morning. Some - including about 50 orphans - have been guaranteed places to stay by the Italian government. Others hope to find places with families. They were pasty-faced, from weeks without sunlight or vitamins.
Jadranka Kravljaca, mother of 10-year-old Andrei, said he had not been outside their apartment block since 2 May, because of the danger from Serbian shells. 'We have nothing left at home except flour. Yesterday, we had some cheese, from humanitarian aid. It was the first time in three months. I don't need to eat. But my son must be able to eat.'
There is little doubt of the courage and dedication of those people like Sonja Richtman, the organiser of the 'children's embassy' in Sarajevo, who oversaw yesterday's evacuation of the children. However, Ms Richtman is the first to acknowledge that their efforts are merely a drop in the ocean. When she first announced plans for such a children's convoy, she received thousands of calls, 'from early in the morning until late at night'.
The plight of the children of Sarajevo has plucked at the political heartstrings. John Major told the House of Commons last week the Government stood ready to evacuate children if needed or to send medical teams to aid them.
Last week, Britain - with a mini-fanfare of publicity - sent out a team of doctors to gather information about the medical needs of children in Sarajevo. Depending on the doctors' verdict, the UK may now open its doors to a few children, or send out some medical supplies to Sarajevo.
When a government helps a few children, it can be confident of a sympathetic response. But that does not begin to scratch at the surface of the catastrophe that has overtaken Sarajevo - which is still causing children and adults to be maimed and killed.
As Ms Richtman says: 'If we stop the war, we don't need to evacuate the children. I'm not sure the West acknowledges the seriousness of the situation. If somebody comes to Sarajevo for one day, maybe that's not enough.' Many Sarajevans thinks tougher Western action is needed against Radovan Karadzic, self- proclaimed leader of Bosnian Serbs, whose forces continue to besiege Sarajevo.
Jadranka Kravljaca - a typically Bosnian mixture of Serb, Croat and Muslim - said the West must 'destroy the tanks, the howitzers in the hills'. Mr Karadzic's offers in London of a ceasefire last week were described as 'lies, all lies'.
As I write these words, at 11.02am on Saturday, there have just been two more loud explosions, as Serbian grenades or mortars land in the town. Maybe one or two people - Bosnian Serbs, Croats, or Muslims - have been killed. Or perhaps Mr Karadzic has only destroyed their apartment and life's possessions. There are no more explosions for the moment. But I can again hear the crack of sniper's bullets.
Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, partially acknowledged the problem when he said during his brief, nervous-looking visit to Sarajevo on Friday (a notable contrast to President Francois Mitterrand's earlier sang-froid): 'Humanitarian efforts don't cure the problem - a problem of fighting. Efforts to stop the fighting have to be persevered with.'
And yet, Britain has until now been unwilling to put the war at the top of the agenda. Serbs, Muslims and Croats in Sarajevo are all being killed by the Serbian forces in the surrounding hills. Somehow, that has to stop. In this context, all other humanitarian issues are forced into second place.
In the words of Nora, a psychology student who stood calmly chatting with friends in the centre of Sarajevo one evening last week, as gunfire reverberated around the town: 'I can eat all day long. But that does not change the fact that tomorrow I may be shot.'
Asked where she thought the way out of Sarajevo's agony lay, she said simply: 'The United States.' Like many others in Sarajevo, she insisted the Serbian gunners in the hills should be bombed - by American planes.
Certainly, few expect much from the ceasefire theoretically offered by Mr Karadzic. One Sarajevan, asked if he believed the ceasefire would be real, threw up his arms with a weary smile.
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