The false alarm that lodges shrapnel in a small child's leg

Click to follow
The Independent Online
VITEZ - 'One hundred and twenty Serb troops entered the village. They raped ten Croat girls. The Croat commander immediately deserted to the Armija (the Bosnian Army) . . .' That was the the last entry in my notebook. Then there was what sounded like a huge explosion, writes Christopher Bellamy.

It was less than 50 yards away. It had landed in the neighbour's front garden - a mortar bomb, we thought. There was a hysterical wail and a man appeared, clutching his young son whose leg was bleeding, torn by shrapnel fragments. It was a miracle the boy, who had been playing in the garden, had not been killed.

The four small windows at the front of the house were smashed, the earth in a flower bed churned up. The rocket warhead had winged its way from the north, passing through a tree before landing on the concrete edging of the flower bed.

The British Army had rented the house it uses as a press centre from this family next door.

'To the MST (the military hospital) now.' Staff Sergeant Andy Mason bundled the boy and his parents into a Land-Rover, and drove off at high speed.

We were shocked but the people in the next-door house were hysterical. A young mother, clutching her baby, was screaming and crying. The old man had his head in his hands. He said nothing, just stared into space.

For weeks these people - Croats - have been waiting for an assault by the Bosnian army, who surround Vitez. This small rocket warhead seemed to have come from the forward Bosnian positions just 500 yards to the north. One might excuse the Croats for thinking the attack had begun. It had not. Perhaps it was a stray round, aimed at the nearby Croat mortar position.

Two hours later they brought the boy back, his right leg bandaged. The surgeons at the British military hospital had pulled out the fragments. He looked calm enough now, sucking on a pink lollipop.

One of the young soldiers said he had been the first to reach the injured boy. 'The first action is get your flak jacket and helmet on,' said S/Sgt Mason. 'Then worry about casualties. Otherwise you become a casualty, lad.'