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17 Bosnians Evacuated for Medical Treatment in West : Balkans: Eleven children, six adults slip through brief openings in battlefronts. Others wait.

December 19, 1993| From Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — U.N. officials slipped 11 children and six adults through a brief opening in Bosnian battlefronts for medical treatment in the West on Saturday.

Six of the children were evacuated from Sarajevo en route to the United States. Five other youngsters were evacuated from the northern city of Tuzla, an official of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.

In Sarajevo, Emina Smajlovic kissed her two young daughters and promised them all would go well.

Then the door of their U.N. armored vehicle swung closed and French soldiers gave the children chocolate and tried to soothe them. Outside, Smajlovic shook with sobs and watched through her fingers as her only two children drove away.

"Emina, they are alive and will have a chance to live when they leave this place," a relative told her.

On Friday, Ray Wilkinson, a UNHCR spokesman in Sarajevo, said 89 others were awaiting evacuation for treatment but that their departure was being delayed by the difficulty in finding spaces in foreign hospitals and by bureaucracy.

He said he thought that obstacles, primarily from Serbs, were being imposed intentionally.

Permission for medical evacuations has often been used as a bargaining tool by the sides in the Bosnian war.

Among the children and six adults evacuated from Sarajevo to Ancona, Italy, were a 5-month-old baby and Smajlovic's daughters, 9-year-old Minela and 6-year-old Sanela.

The two girls were wounded in a Nov. 10 mortar attack on a school. Minela suffered brain damage and needed to be evacuated because her treatment depends on stable electricity for CAT scans. Sanela was wounded in both legs.

From Tuzla, five children were evacuated by helicopter to Split, on the Croatian coast, and from there to Italy, a UNHCR official said.

Their final destination was to be determined later.

Bosnian radio said two people were killed in the capital Saturday and 21 were wounded in shelling and sniper fire.

Wilkinson said earlier Saturday that conditions in the capital had improved marginally with the arrival in the past week of 400 tons of food and winter gear. He also reported the arrival of another convoy in the besieged eastern enclave of Gorazde.

Sarajevo is almost totally dependent on humanitarian aid, much of it supplied by an international airlift. Obstruction of land routes has severely limited the amount of food and other goods the UNHCR can send overland.

Last month, Serbs, Croats and the Bosnian government signed an agreement to allow unimpeded access to millions of people who will depend on international aid to survive the winter. But relief officials say bureaucratic intransigence, shelling and shooting have continued to block convoys.

But Wilkinson said six land convoys reached Sarajevo over the past week, carrying food and gear to help winterize the city. It was the largest such amount in at least four months.

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