LETTER:Bosnia: failure to deliver medical aid, and a promise not kept

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The Independent Online
From Mr John P. Beavis, FRCS

Sir: Yesterday, I returned from Bosnia after unsuccessfully attempting to enter Sarajevo with medical and surgical supplies for the State Hospital. It soon became clear that the choices, as described to me by my "minders" from the charity with which I am involved (Humanitarian Aid with Medical Development) were to be taken prisoner, or to be either killed or injured in a fruitless endeavour. It was heartbreaking to be close enough to talk on the phone to one of my surgical colleagues in the city while unable to offer any help at this crucial time.

I have no illusions about the material value of such assistance but, as my colleague said, the main thing was for the Bosnians to be aware that they have not been forgotten. On several of my previous visits the people of Sarajevo, while still under intense bombardment, recognised that their plight had "gone off the boil" as far as the media and the Western governments were concerned. Attention seemed to be dependent on the enactment of some major catastrophe, such as the market massacre, or the sights such as that of pathetic little Irma.

On this visit, however, there was an expression of concern, and even fear, at the consequences of impetuous military action that could not be properly and completely followed through. After the attack on the ammunition dump at Pale, I encountered no elation among my Bosnian friends, merely apprehension that worse aggression would follow. Clearly, they were right, but one has to ask why the forces on the ground and Nato were not provided with intelligence data as accurate as my friends' simple gut feelings.

I am amazed, on returning home, to read that many wish to use this latest ill-conceived military venture as an excuse to pull out of our commitment to Bosnia. Proponents of such a view can have no idea either of the tremendous benefits of the UN aid activities and those of the non-government organisations, such as the Red Cross and Medecins sans Frontieres. Without Unprofor protection, such work would rapidly cease and the enclaves would either starve or succumb to epidemics of the diseases that follow in the wake of war. A simple example of this was the substantial rise in wound infections in the State Hospital, Sarajevo, which I recorded between August 1993 and February 1994 as the nutritional status of the city reduced due to increasing blockade.

Those who advocate a withdrawal from Bosnia should think hard about such matters and question whether it is right to claim that this small country is no concern of ours, if we wish to continue to call ourselves civilised.

There is good reason to believe that the cause of peace is not entirely lost when one views the tremendous achievements of the European Union in Mostar. Anyone who saw this city just one year ago could hardly have believed how good management and patience would produce such results and go so far towards unifying the area. Without the continuing presence of the UN forces, all this would have been impossible. Are we to discount such achievements in our rush to leave when the going gets tough?

Yours faithfully,


Rochester, Kent

31 May