The Hospital

08Jun2000 CONGO: War-wounded crowd Congo hospital in chaotic scenes. 19:30 GMT

By Todd Pitman

KISANGANI, Congo, June 8 (Reuters) - Women and children, some screaming and crying, sprint barefoot up the steps of the hospital as gunbattles erupt and a black plume of smoke rises from a fresh mortar impact just 100 (yards) meters away.

Inside the university hospital's crumbling pink halls, fresh pools of blood stain floors littered with abandoned syringes.

Dozens of civilians - the wounded and their families - sit huddled against the walls, crouching anxiously on dirty foam mattresses as shells explode outside on Thursday afternoon.

Among them are children, some with fragments in their heads, backs and stomachs. Some rooms are filled with wounded soldiers, their automatic rifles stacked in corners.

In an operating theatre, a surgeon and four assistants work with un-sterilized surgical knives to amputate one man's left leg after it was torn apart by shrapnel earlier on Thursday. Doctors cut through it like a piece of raw meat.

The Congolese city of Kisangani is clearly not a city to get wounded in.

Ugandan and Rwandan troops - former allies in a chaotic war that has torn apart the Democratic Republic of the Congo since August 1998 - have fought intense, almost ceaseless artillery duels from opposite sides of Kisangani since Monday morning.

It is the third time the rival armies' struggle for control of this diamond-rich city has exploded into violence and once again it is civilians who are suffering most.

The fading, cream-coloured concrete building of the university hospital serves as a respite not only for the sick but also as shelter for hundreds of people fleeing the fighting.

The battles have sent thousands of mortar bombs thundering down across the city centre, tearing apart corrugated iron-roof houses and sending shrapnel flying in all directions.


With the city's airports closed, its roads cut off and no running water or electricity, the hospital has already run out of most medical supplies.

"We have nothing here. We are in urgent need of everything," said Dieudonne Mata, one of the city's few surgeons.

Mata, wearing a blue surgical mask, spoke with one gloved hand inside a conscious man's stomach, trying to retrieve a shell fragment.

"We've been working 24 hours a day since Monday. We have few medicines, no proper anaesthetics. We need surgical supplies, fuel to run the generator," he said.

One man died earlier in the day for lack of blood after having a bullet extracted from his gut without anaesthesia.

Kisangani's other main hospital was reportedly hit by shelling on Thursday but it was virtually impossible to reach.

Eric Kambale, a 23-year-old student with a bullet still lodged in his upper right thigh, crouches on a mattress in the university hospital hallway waiting for treatment.

"This morning I went out to get water - we haven't had any food or water for four days - and I got hit," Kambale said.

"Somebody has to do something. Who gave these foreigners the right to fight in our country? We want them to leave. But nobody is doing anything."

Mobs of people, visibly angry at foreigners for destroying their city, surrounded journalists and threatened some of them.

Doctors said they have received over 60 injured patients since Monday and five have died but most civilians, pinned down in their houses, are unable to come in for treatment.

Witnesses said dead bodies in some parts of town have been covered with blankets where they were killed, the living around them unable to bury them because of the incessant clashes.

(C) Reuters Limited 2000.