Violence not limited to Sarajevo in Bosnia

August 16, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Staff Writer

BIHAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The thin whine of the incoming round breaks the late afternoon calm, then comes the clattering thunk of the explosion, and finally the wail of the alarm siren.

Famed Sarajevo isn't the only place taking the heat from the Serbs.

"It's starting again," says Ermina Alagic, who is standing in the doorway of her home here. She shudders slightly. "We go to the shelter."

The Serbian gunners whose artillery positions are said to surround this city are a little late. They usually begin at 6:30 p.m. This first round has come in at 6:40.

The Bihac region is an enclave, an island of Muslims really, in Serbian-controlled northern Bosnia-Herzegovina. The artillery is positioned in the rugged hills around the region.

Ms. Alagic leads the way to the shelter her neighbor, Safat Kolenovic, has built under his home. Fifteen people are already there, four men, four women and seven children. It's a good stout shelter, but dark and crowded. One kerosene lantern burns dimly.

Mr. Kolenovic's grandson, Arnel, steps into the center of the shadowy room. Arnel, who is 4, can't speak. No one knows why. The adults encourage him to show how his mother was hurt by a shell that hit their house. He was there.

So, a tiny round-faced Marcel Marceau of war, he acts out the wounding of his mother.

The little boy's hand makes an arc to show the shell coming in. He mimes the explosion. He pushes his finger into his thigh to show where the shrapnel hit his mother. He acts out her cries of pain and her tears.

Arnel's mother was hit five days ago. "She is still in the hospital," says Arnel's grandmother.

These people will stay in Mr. Kolenovic's shelter until they feel safe enough to leave. Some will stay until morning, although shelling often occurs in the morning, or at noon.

"You never know when they will start," says Ms. Alagic. "They shell us three or four times a night. Maybe 20 rounds."

The shelling is sporadic and not really aimed at any specific target.

The second round to hit Bihac on this night came fifteen minutes after the one that sent Ms. Alagic into Mr. Kolenovic's shelter, the next only after an hour.

You have to be unlucky to be killed in this kind of attack. At the Bihac Hospital, they say four people were unlucky enough to be killed Thursday night.

That's about the same number as were killed at Sarajevo the same night. But Sarajevo has caught the attention of the world. Bihac is just another city where people die in a country at war.

The president pro tem, so to speak, of the Bihac region is Dr. Irfan Ljubijankic, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the hospital.

He's an interesting man who writes sentimental ballads about dying Bosnian soldiers and reads the prize-winning works of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges in Serbo-Croatian translation.

He says 250,000 people live in the region, which includes four towns ranging in population from 40,000 to Bihac's 70,000.

They are defended by the unprepared and ill-equipped Territorial Defense Force, a mostly Muslim militia nominally commanded by Dr. Ljubijankic, who has a faintly mystical view of the defense of his region. He believes "a good soul can win the war."

Bihac has been proposed as one of the havens for the mostly Muslim refugees that the United Nations says are being expelled from Northern Bosnia by the tin-plate racism called "ethnic cleansing." Dr. Ljubijankic says there are already 12,000

refugees here.

The "haven" would keep the Muslims here instead of moving them to Croatia as refugees and facilitating the Serbian purification plan.

To the Muslims who live here, the shelling of Bihac, which has been most heavily hit in neighborhoods south of the Una River, is not totally capricious. Dr. Ljubijankic believes the Serbs want to drive Muslims across the river, so that the Una becomes the northern border of a "Greater Serbia."

The victims come to his hospital.

In what is called intensive care, a little curly-haired boy of 10, Zlatan Sallhodzio, talks bravely with his father. He's got a gauze patch over where his left eye used to be and a freckling of shrapnel wounds on his cheek.

"It's between life and death," says Dr. Haje Kovicic, an anesthesiologist. "He had a big operation of the stomach, too."

At this hospital, intensive care amounts to a bottle of intravenous fluid hanging over the bed, no grand whirring, pulsating machinery straining to keep Zlatan alive.

"We have one respirator, two heart monitors," says an intensive care nurse, "All the money goes to Sarajevo. We have too many patients and not much machinery."

Zlatan was hit when a mortar round burst in front of his apartment house about 8:30 p.m. last Sunday.

"It was one of our most difficult nights," says Asmira Hrustanovic, the hospital's official translator. "Twenty-nine were brought here -- five dead, three of them children."

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