13 March 1993.
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — The first emaciated wounded and sick arrived Friday from besieged Srebrenica, leaving behind near-starvation and desperate hardship, including amputation without anesthetic.
Doctors at Tuzla’s main hospital said 12 of the worst cases were flown in by Bosnian military helicopter from the Muslim-held enclave in eastern Bosnia.
A similar airlift two days ago evacuated eight wounded soldiers from the eastern Bosnian front, but Friday’s arrivals were the first from Srebrenica proper, a focus of U.N. relief attempts.
“All the time I was thinking of getting away to somewhere where I could heal,” said Sead Klempic, his bones throwing sharp contours into the blanket covering his wasted body. He was left paraplegic by shrapnel to the spine.
“It kept me alive,” he said.
The daring flight, part of it over rebel Serb territory, came as U.N. efforts to bring some of the region’s wounded to Tuzla stumbled on into a third week.
Initial plans by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to evacuate up to 35,000 refugees have been scaled back twice — first to about 2,000 wounded and sick, then to about 70 wounded.
The U.N. efforts failed mainly because of Serb insistence that the approximately 16,000 Serbs left in Tuzla be allowed to leave in exchange, among other conditions.
The city’s Bosniak-led government rejected the terms, saying it would encourage ethnic purges by leaving the city almost purely Muslim.
The Bosnian army evacuations reflected seething frustration with the failure of U.N. attempts. Army and local officials accuse Gen. Philippe Morillon, commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, of accepting the Serbs’ terms.
U.N. refugee officials also have been critical, saying the evacuation of wounded and sick from a war zone cannot be tied to conditions.
Two of the three wounded seen by The Associated Press resembled inmates of Nazi concentration camps or skeletal inmates held in Serb POW camps.
In the best shape was 15-year-old Muhamed Oric. Doctors said he was about 33 pounds underweight. Nosefed through a tube, he yelped with pain and grasped a reporter’s hand as he came around after emergency surgery for a perforated intestine.
The two others told stories generally corroborating reports from the area by World Health Organization physician Simon Mardell. He has radioed out descriptions of epidemics, near-starvation, grossly substandard hospital conditions and a high mortality rate in Srebrenica.
The town, with 7,000 people before the war, is now twice that size because of refugees.
Klempic — his face skull-like, lips scabbed and teeth decaying after a five-month ordeal — said he lost nearly 90 of his original 187 pounds.
He spoke of amputations by handsaw, without anesthetic, by desperately shorthanded hospital staff.
Ibro Salkic, another Srebrenica evacuee, noted, “You couldn’t bear all the screaming.”
Klempic, 23, said patients in Srebrenica’s hospital were stacked in rooms and corridors “like matchsticks.”
Most rooms were unheated, he said, and beds had no sheets. Nurses washed and rewashed bandages in a futile attempt at hygiene. There was no electricity. Two or three people died each day.
“Five people died in the bed next to me in the time I was there,” Klempic said.
Salkic, 45, a soldier wounded near Srebrenica in December, held up two shriveled fingers to signify the two thin slices of bread — made of maize normally fed to livestock — that patients got three times a day, along with a bowl of thin bean soup and tea.
He was operated on in Srebrenica to remove shrapnel from his stomach while fully conscious.
“People are on the edge of starvation,” he said.
Salkic told of people eating the buds of acacia trees and boiled grass for tea.