The Bosnia Crisis: Nightmares come true in factory of death

Click to follow
The Independent Online
SARAJEVO (Reuter) - The four-month Serbian siege of Sarajevo has turned Bosnia's capital into a factory of death. Seven stone steps lead to the final work station in this city's human dis-assembly line - the central morgue. A battlefield stench envelops the two-story, cream-coloured building.

'Come, look at the new world order,' says Dr Mirsad Babic, the morgue's exhausted director. 'I worked four years in pathology, but nothing could prepare me for this.' A knot of grieving soldiers fills the lobby. They have identified the body of a friend killed in Polinje, a place so close machine-guns and mortars can be heard from the battle still going on.

Walk through a door into three small rooms where the stuff of nightmares lies. Bodies cover the floor. Shock, anger, incomprehension are etched in the waxen pallor of their faces. A severed leg clad in blood-soaked trousers lies in the corner, its bare foot without toes. There is no privacy, no dignity. The haste and waste of war invades even this place.

Dr Babic points to four covered bodies: 'Three women and a young girl,' he says. 'They have been here less than two hours . . . they were hit by a mortar in front of their home.' He pulls back a shroud covering one of the women. A slender neck and finely shaped mouth are all that remain above her shoulders. High explosives and hot metal have done this work.

An old man wanders in. He is looking for his wife. 'She has been missing since yesterday,' he says, 'I know she must be dead but I can't find her.'

A huge freezer contains the bodies of a Palestinian and a Syrian, non-combatant students killed in the fighting. The morgue is trying to arrange for the United Nations peace-keepers to fly the bodies out. Airlifting the dead students might set an awkward precedent, since the UN has not yet managed to evacuate 220 foreign nationals who are still alive in Sarajevo.

'The worst part is dealing with relatives,' says Dr Babic. Most of those in the morgue are civilians. The grandmothers of Sarajevo have seen more combat, witnessed more carnage than most soldiers. The rituals and rhythms of death permeate this city: funerals; pedestrians scurrying across intersections where snipers are busy; citizen soldiers mustering themselves for service at the front. And when the first mortar shell falls on a neighbourhood and dogs run to the steps of the shelter, war has won.

'I shall probably go mad before this is over,' says Dr Babic. 'But ask yourself this: what if our war is contagious, what if this is a virus like Aids that spreads and infects all of Europe?'