Cost of Sri Lanka’s war on the operating table

CHEDDIKULAM, May 10, 2009 (AFP) – The X-ray shows a bullet lodged next to the heart of a Tamil man, one of tens of thousands who have flooded out of Sri Lanka’s northeast to escape the war with the Tamil Tigers. “He said he was shot in the chest six months ago. But we can’t remove it because we’d have to do full open-chest surgery,” said Michel Orcel, a doctor working in a French field hospital set up on the island.

Over the last two weeks, the team of 72 surgeons, doctors, nurses and other staff have already treated 700 people, 100 of whom have been put on the operating table.

And under the scalpel, the skinny and traumatised displaced have given a gruesome picture of how Tamil civilians have paid a heavy price.

Their wounds show how ordinary and impoverished villagers — male and female, young and old — have been shot, shelled, bombed and burned as the bitter ethnic conflict enters its bloody final phase.

One surgeon, Daniel Gaujoux, said he was “stunned by the number of machine gun bullets and shrapnel we are pulling out” from civilians who managed to escape.

“We’ve removed 30 bullets in 10 days — around 10 of them from the arms and legs of children, and even one from the kn