Food trucks enter Dobrinja at last

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - The guns fell silent and the people of Dobrinja poured out of their houses into the sunshine yesterday to greet the United Nations trucks. They smiled and waved, but the welcome for the first food convoy to reach them since April was subdued, because the 45,000 people of this suburb of Sarajevo know their ordeal is not over.

Muslim, Croat and Serb alike, they have been trapped for 71 days by a barrage of mortars and gunfire as anti-government Serb fighters try to subdue their district as a prelude to controlling the city as a whole.

The 12 trucks, escorted by eight armoured vehicles and eight carloads of reporters, brought 120 tons of food and medical supplies into Dobrinja after both sides agreed to a half-day truce. The vehicles headed along silent roads littered with shell cases and broken electricity cables. Not a roof was intact; house after house was burnt out or wrecked. Women and children looked out through broken windows, like cautious animals.

Schools, shops, the post office, children's playgrounds, all had been relentlessly reduced to rubble by mortar and artillery fire from close range. With only light arms, the defenders are powerless to stop them. 'Food, OK,' said Samir, a section commander. 'But we need more boom-boom. Chetniks (the attacking Serb fighters) have big guns, so we need.' Milk, sugar, tinned beef, ready-made meals and food parcels were heaved off the trucks in Dobrinja's main street as Canadian troopers covered the surrounding hills. 'It is going well,' said a UN organiser, Fabrizio Hochschild, directing operations. 'There's a high degree of malnutrition here - you can see it among the children. So let's hope this is the first of many.'

Medo Blazko, one of the residents, said: 'Yes, it has been tough. We live on rice, macaroni, some bread. It is seven months since I taste meat.' In his garden, pears are ripening on a tree and vegetables sprout - in case the siege goes on. But he tends them only at night, because of the snipers.

In the town centre, a Catholic requiem Mass was held in a restaurant for those who have died, whatever their ethnic group. Seventy people have died, but 1,500 have been injured, mainly by shrapnel or by snipers' bullets, and the whole population looked thin, pale and stressed after more than two months spent indoors or in cellars.

Youssef Hagir, until last week the only surgeon in the besieged enclave, beamed as he watched the medical supplies unloaded at his hospital set up in a former warehouse.

'I have performed 1,500 operations here since May 1, most of them with only local anaesthetics,' he said.

'Early in the siege one man had a gangrenous leg, and I hesitated for two days because then I had no anaesthetics. But I had to operate to save him, so four men held him down and I amputated it.' The man survived.

The trucks were all unloaded, the Mass table was folded up and taken to safety. As the truce's end approached, people drifted back to their doorways. Two minutes before 1.30pm, sniper shots echoed through Dobrinja and the relief trucks rolled away.