To Tuzla, with wounds too deep for tears: UN completes evacuation of wounded from Srebrenica as open warfare breaks out in Vitez and British soldiers run for cover

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IN THE basement of Tuzla hospital, where 250 new beds were rigged up overnight, a loud cheer went up among the rows of grubby Bosnian fighters brought in on the second day of the United Nations evacuation of sick and wounded from Srebrenica.

The cause was an announcement by the young nurse. 'You are all going to have a shower immediately,' she shouted. Those well enough to walk, hop or hobble formed an excited queue. The UN announced the air evacuation of sick and wounded from Srebrenica had reached its target last night, after more than 300 Bosnian Muslims, mostly male fighters, reached safety on UN helicopters in Tuzla. Larry Hollingworth, a UN refugee official, said the 140-strong UN force which reached Srebrenica at the weekend was 'tremendously well received' by the terrified population.

The evacuation has been criticised as a UN-supervised ethnic cleansing operation serving the interests of the besieging Serbs. But for Nedzip Delic, 25 , the offer of a trip out of Srebrenica on a white UN helicopter to safety in Bosnian-held Tuzla was a miracle.

Missing one leg, he considered his chances of slipping out of Srebrenica and making it through Serb lines into the pine-forested mountains were next to zero. 'It was such hell in Srebrenica I could not believe it when I got on to the helicopter,' he said. 'I keep thinking I am still there.'

He lost his leg 10 days, ago thanks to a Serb tank shell, when he was defending the village of Zeleni Jadar, 4 miles south of Srebrenica. The amputation, performed by Srebrenica's one surgeon, was a success. 'Thanks to the US airplanes we have anaesthetics. Before they were taking legs off when people were still conscious.'

Senad Alic, 21, had that experience. 'I lost all hope of leaving Srebrenica alive,' he said. He lost a leg last autumn and underwent an operation in Srebrenica when the hospital had no soap, let alone drugs, and nurses washed the hospital laundry, bloody bandages and soiled sheets and all, in the nearest river. 'I lost consciousness with the pain, when they took my leg off, just blacked out.'

'Yes, I was a goner,' said 13-year-old Admir Mujic, taken out of Srebrenica on a UN lorry convoy last week. 'The Serbs threw rocks at the lorry as we were driven to Tuzla and swore at us. I cried.'

Admir has lost the use of three fingers in one hand but he is very lucky to be alive. He was present when 56 civilians, mostly women and children, were blown to pieces on Monday last week in Serbian bombardment of a school playground. 'One moment I was watching all these people playing football, the next there were heads, hands and brains all over the place. One boy's body stopped at the waist. The top part had gone.'

After a year of siege and bombardment in Srebrenica, children like Admir have lost most of their ability to feel fear or shock. Anyone expecting trembling lips or eyes brimming with tears would be taken aback by Admir's clinically cool description of a massacre. 'I have no confidence in General (Philippe) Morillon,' he went on, referring to the French UN force commander in Bosnia who one month ago promised UN protection for the besieged town. 'Morillon is just as good as a Serb if you ask me.'

With little emotion, Admir told of days spent dodging Serb snipers looking for berries and buds to take to his mother for the daily meal, and nights spent hunting in woods and hills for ready-to-eat meals dropped by US planes over Srebrenica. 'Sometimes you find them, sometimes not,' he said. In spite of the atrocities he has witnessed, Admir says he wants to go back to Srebrenica to fight alongside his brother.

'We trust Clinton,' said Edmer Omerovic, 32. 'He should station peace-keepers down the River Drina betwen Bosnia and Serbia and take out the bridges. That is how the Serbs bring reinforcements and fresh weapons to Bosnia.' No one had any faith in the ceasefire agreement around Srebrenica brokered by the UN unless it was accompanied by the permanent deployment of peace-keepers.