Where the blood of Bosnia flows to no avail: Robert Fisk visits a Sarajevo hospital where ethnic distinctions have no meaning for patients or staff

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The Independent Online
THE MUSLIM fighter, Eldar Lemes, lay on his back in the emergency ward, his stomach torn open by shrapnel, his eyes wide in panic. A doctor was sucking blood and mucus out of his lungs through a thick plastic tube but Lemes's chest heaved with fear. He wanted desperately to keep what was most sacred to him: his own life.

And then his head moved slightly backwards and his eyes glazed gently at the ceiling. 'Cardiac]' Vesna Cengic shouted in a shrill, frightened voice. The green blip on the screen beside the female anaesthetist moved inexorably in a straight line from left to right, recording another victim of Serbia's guns.

Great suffering can be an introspective phenomenon. So it was that the old men and young women in the beds around Lemes - civilians and therefore true innocents of this war - ignored the supreme human drama taking place a few feet from them.

Amra Becirspahic, the wife of the hospital director, whose liver, pancreas and stomach were cut open by shell splinters as she made lunch for her 18-month old baby, lay in the opposite bed, talking weakly to a relative while a tube dripped through her nose.

In the very next bed to Lemes, 15-year old Nermana Hasanovic lay coughing in great pain. A piece of shrapnel had penetrated her lungs after smashing through two wooden doors and entering the cellar where she was hiding from shellfire near the Sarajevo television building. For the patients in the emergency ward at the French Hospital in Sarajevo, the Geneva peace conference had come too late. A male doctor pounded away at Lemes's chest, just above the heap of bandages that covered his stomach. But the wounded man's eyes, filmed over now, a strange grey colour in the pupils, remained fixed on the ceiling.

The French Hospital in Sarajevo had already lost its first man of the day, a militia officer called Kisic Zahid, who died at eight yesterday morning after his legs were blown off by a shell. Now Lemes lay like a corpse as the doctor pushed brutally on to his bruised chest, so hard it seemed the dying man's ribs would break. He was hit near the United Nations headquarters and had already endured two operations to insert artificial artery tubes into his stomach.

There was no contradicting another of the doctors who stood by his bed, masked up behind a rack of oxygen bottles. Zeljka Knezevic spoke with eloquence and passion. 'There are patients here who have been wounded three times,' she said. 'Some are civilians, some are soldiers. We have to save their lives once and then they come back with more wounds. We send them home and then they come back a third time on stretchers . . . Is it surprising we have too few medical supplies?'

Then the green blip moved, almost imperceptibly, and Lemes's dead chest heaved into life, his grey eyes blinked and the exhausted, chest-thumping doctor looked up, laughing with joy because he had brought this Bosnian Lazarus back into our dangerous world. The thick plastic tube was pushed painfully back down Lemes's throat, filled suddenly with more blood and mucus. his frightened eyes stared at the doctors, his chest moved in spasms. He was panicking again.

There were some in the French hospital yesterday who had learned to control their panic but whose hearts could not yet embrace the truth. Such a one was Belma Goralija, a beautiful woman of 24 with an angel's smile and almost equally perfect English, a medical student until a sniper shot her in the back three months ago.

No blood lay on this young woman's conscience. Her hobby was folk-dancing. 'I was visiting a neighbour who had been deported from her home in Gerbonica - I had come to give her clothes,' she said. 'I was sitting in a chair when a bullet came right through the window and hit me in the back. When they brought me here, I just wanted to stay alive. And then when I woke up after the operation, I was very happy because I was alive. It's very sad to lay here each day and hear the cries of the wounded. It makes you wonder what kind of people do this. But now I am alive, I know what I want. I want to walk again.'

But she will never do so. 'She was about to graduate from medical college,' Dr Knezevic said. 'She knows the bullet broke her spinal cord. In her head she knows this, but her heart won't accept it.' The staff have put the woman into the paraplegics ward in the hope that she might be sent abroad for treatment as the Bosnian government once promised.

Next to her bed lay Sabrina Kunalic, who was almost asphyxiated when a shard of metal from a shell blew a massive hole in her throat as she waited for a bus outside the presidential office. She had been going to work as a sound technician in the Sarajevo radio station. But now she looked at us with a faint smile, a massive tube protruding from the side of her neck. She could not talk.

Nor could 70-year-old Ana Soco, wounded by shrapnel on Thursday and now lying in shock beside the emergency ward, her face a mask of indifference and hopelessness. An equally old man, Salco Dreca, moved silently past her on a wheelchair, both legs amputated after a shell exploded in his garden.

Statistics show the extent of this human damage. The French hospital, itself hit by more than 20 shells, has received more than 7,000 war casualties since April, 1,912 of them since July - along with 55 corpses. On Thursday alone, 90 wounded were brought here, six of whom died. Yesterday, the first day of the Geneva peace conference, the hospital received six wounded and one dead - Lemes was still just holding on to his life last night.

Dr Knezevic has developed her own philosophy on the institution that destroyed so many lives. 'Our problem is that in our one city of Sarajevo, we organised parties on ethnic lines - for Croats, Serbs and Muslims,' she said. 'The parties could offer only war - not negotiation.'

Suffice it to say that Dr Knezevic is a Serb, Belma Goralija a Muslim. Ana Soco is a Croat. Nermana Hasanovic and Eldar Lemes are Muslims. Within the walls of the hospital - too late for any political effect - these distinctions have lost their meaning. 'I chose to be a doctor,' Dr Knezevic said. 'I did not choose to be a Serb.'

(Photograph omitted)