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10-Month-Old Suffers in Bureaucratic Muddle, Dies of Encephalitis

June 5, 1993

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Of all the senseless deaths in this city sick with killing, Vedad Hamzic’s was one of the saddest.

The 10-month-old boy died of meningeal encephalitis because he lived on the wrong side of the front lines in a suburb controlled by the Muslim-led government. He couldn’t get the treatment in the city center that could have saved his life.

In desperation, his parents braved the sniper-infested Sarajevo airport runway in an effort to save their boy. They made the crossing, but medical care came too late.

Vedad’s death - just one among thousands in 14 months of siege - illustrates the bureaucratic quagmire that has accompanied war, the willingness of armies to use sick civilians as pawns, and the limits of the U.N.’s ability to stop it. His family and doctors bitterly charge that the United Nations could have saved the boy by making an exception and transferring him across the airport. Bosnian Serb and Muslim officials also accuse each other of regularly blocking the transfer of civilians who need medical care.

Vedad’s death, said U.N. spokesman Cmdr. Barry Frewer, was ″one of those tragedies of the war.″

Doctors at Kosevo Hospital, Sarajevo’s largest, are more ready to assign blame.

″If this child had been transferred to the clinic when the mother asked for it ... this death would have been avoided,″ said Dr. Sadzida Telalbasic, chief of Kosevo Hospital’s infectious diseases clinic.

Vedad lived with his parents and 4-year-old sister in Sokolovic Kolonija, just south of the Bosnian-held suburb of Butmir, all parts of pre-war Sarajevo that have since been cut off from the main part of town.

Sarajevo airport separates Butmir from the city.

He came down with a high fever May 1, and his 24-year-old mother Zlata took him to the only doctor in the area. When antibiotics failed, he told her Vedad needed urgent hospitalization, Vedad’s aunt, Melca Kadic, said Thursday.

That’s when man-made complications took over.

His father, Zijo, a local policeman, contacted government military headquarters. The only way to reach the hospital was over the U.N.-controlled airport runway that separates Butmir from Sarajevo proper.

The mandate that allowed the United Nations to take control of the airport a year ago and begin the relief flights that fed Sarajevo through the winter does not permit it to allow passage through the airport area without permission by both sides.

Igor Hlaj, a Bosnian liaison officer, said U.N. officials told him that since there was no agreement between the Serbs and Bosnian government for medical evacuations, the Serbs would have to approve the boy’s transport.

But the Serbs insisted involving people from their own side. Government military officials refused.

Finally, said the boy’s uncle, Munib Kadic, the parents settled on a dash across the airport.

For three nights they huddled at the airport perimeter. Each night, they were intercepted by U.N. forces patrolling the runway and brought back to Butmir, relatives and hospital officials said.

On the fourth night, Zijo Hamzic carried his nearly lifeless son to a U.N. armored personnel carrier and asked the soldiers inside to bring him, his wife and son across the runway. A sympathetic soldier agreed to do so, in violation of regulations.

Vedad arrived at Kosevo’s clinic May 16 virtually comatose, said Dr. Telalbasic. He never improved, and died last Sunday. He was buried Tuesday in a small cemetery amid old stone Muslim graves.

His mother and father headed home the same day in another dash across the runway. Melca Kadic doesn’t know whether they made it.

Because Vedad was born amid wartime shortages, his family doesn’t even have a photo of him. But his doctors say they will long remember the little boy with curly brown hair.

″This particular case touched us the most because we could have helped if they had let us,″ said Dr. Edina Torlak.

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