Related topics

Killing and Maiming Goes On, But Five Children Leave

August 28, 1993

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Selma Hanzar, 10, shrieked in pain as the attendants moved her shrapnel- shredded body from a stretcher to the ambulance that would take her out of the ruins of eastern Mostar.

″Daddy 3/8 Daddy 3/8″ the girl keened. Her father wept wordlessly.

Nearby, Maja Kazacic, 16, another evacuee, was smiling. ″I’ll be back,″ she said, her T-shirt proclaiming, in Bosnian, ″Don’t mess with Bosnia- Herzegovina.″ Below the shirt’s hem, the teen’s left leg was just a stump.

For five children and the four relatives going with them, Mostar’s ordeal ended Friday - but at a heartbreakingly high price. Some of the children left limbs behind.

Still, some of the tens of thousands doomed to remain in the moonscape created by relentless Croat shelling said they would gladly sacrifice as much.

″I would immediately give my leg or my arm to get out,″ said Elvira Becirevic, a thin hand hovering absent-mindedly over the youngest of her three children as she offered her best to a guest - meager cake of flour and water.

A U.N. convoy remained idled in Mostar on Friday, their crews pawns in the deadly maneuvering between Muslims and Croats. The convoy, emptied of its precious cargo of food for starving Muslims, now carries perhaps more significant value - as a shield against renewed Croat shelling.

Eastern Mostar was indeed quieter than usual Friday as U.N. officials bargained with local authorities for a second day.

Yet the killing and maiming went on. A tank shell crashed into an apartment, killing two adults and wounding three young siblings.

Moments later, a man dashed into the hospital, the limp body of the first youngster in his arms. He bounded up the stairs to hospital staff, who threw 5-year-old Damir Greljo onto a bed and began a frantic resuscitation attempt.

One doctor slapped an oxygen mask on the boy’s face. While a nurse thumped his chest, another doctor searched Damir’s pale skin anxiously for a vein, but all were too thin to take a needle.

Twenty people - patients, relatives, hospital attendants - then watched silently, solemnly, as the boy, his head and body bloodied by shrapnel, started breathing on his own.

Doctors said Damir’s 3-year-old brother, Elmir, would likely lose sight in one eye. Their sister, Elmira, had only light wounds to her face and left leg - but the 5-day-old infant howled in pain.

″My baby, my baby,″ her mother, Snjezana, moaned in pity.

Outside, about 50 people gathered around the U.N. ambulance and another driven by Sally Becker, a volunteer worker for an Irish charity. Some were relatives of those leaving - five children wounded earlier in the siege. Others inquired softly how their children could be taken out.

Then the loading began. As Selma and her 8-year-old brother, Mirza, were eased into Becker’s ambulance, their mother pleaded that her husband be allowed to join them, in vain. The Croats guarding the perimeters would never allow men of fighting age to leave the besieged city.

″The children will not be able to live without him, they’re so close to him,″ the woman cried.

Amid the wailing and anxiety, Maja’s face was suffused by a never-ending smile.

″I’m so sad to leave, but I’ll be back,″ she vowed as attendants, taking care not to nudge what’s left of her recently amputated leg, slid her stretcher into the U.N. vehicle.

She was joined by 13-year-old Nermina Omeragic. Doctors said her shattered left leg would probably be amputated after helicopters take all five patients to the American MASH hospital in Zagreb, about 200 miles away in Croatia.

And then the ambulances were gone.

Left behind were tens of thousands of traumatized people, locked into an area only several miles square. The U.N. food would last a few days, and after that they would have to return to foraging to survive. A Croat blockade has kept food from the Muslim sector since May.

″I dream of potatoes,″ said Mrs. Becirevic, smiling thinly. ″This is like being thrown out of paradise without committing a sin.″

Marshal Tito Street, the main avenue bisecting the Muslim eastern sector, is lined by burned-out store fronts. Garbage and twisted metal have replaced the fashionable goods once displayed behind gleaming panes. The desolation is so complete even the glass shards have vanished.

The main soup kitchen is on one end of Marshal Tito. To reach it, however, people must cross a street covered by Croat snipers. The only safe way leads through Asim Segetalo’s house - in the front door and out the back, then vice versa to get home.

Segetalo calls it ″the promenade,″ others say it’s ″the way to salvation.″ A steady stream passes through the kitchen by day, murmuring ″sorry″ as they go by.

His wife, a hairdresser who washes scalps for free to rid them of lice, said of Mostar’s ordeal: ″We are just dying slowly. We’re all painfully aware of that, but there’s nothing you can do.″

Update hourly