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Czech Republic: Iraqi Children Get Treatment In Prague

Three Iraqi children are undergoing treatment in a Prague hospital after being flown out of the southern city of Al-Basrah by the Czech Defense Ministry. Today, a group of American diplomats and a Czech deputy defense minister went to see how the children are doing.

Prague, 14 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Zainab is too shy to talk to any of her visitors and hides behind her father, Razzak.

But then, not every hospital patient gets a visit from a group of American diplomats, a deputy defense minister, and a gaggle of journalists.

They're visiting Zainab because the 12-year-old is one of the first Iraqi children to be flown to Prague by the Czech Republic, whose troops are operating a field hospital in Al-Basrah.

At the hospital, Kenneth Hillas, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, and Jan Vana, a deputy Czech defense minister, have a three-way conversation in Czech, English, and Arabic as they hand Zainab some small gifts.

Hillas (in Czech): "How are you feeling?"

Razzak (in Arabic), then interpreter (in Czech): "She's feeling fine."

Hillas (in English): "We brought you something. (In Czech) "We have something for your stay in the hospital." (In English) "This is from the people at the American Embassy."

Vana (in Czech): "This is from the people at the Ministry of Defense who brought you here. It's not a machine gun. It's a doll. (Laughs.)"

So far, the Czechs have brought three Iraqi children to Prague's Motol Hospital. Zainab is waiting for an operation to remove her spleen. Then there's 10-year-old Bidur, who is in line for a heart operation, and baby Muhammad, who has a urinary tract problem and possibly tuberculosis.

Vana says another group of sick children is due to arrive in Prague soon.

"We realize we can't do everything," he says. "We are not almighty there. So we try to contribute to the effort which the international community is doing to help and to show the Iraqi people they are not living in isolation. This is a gesture, but for the people who get the treatment, it's not just a gesture."

Razzak says he is grateful to the Czech Republic for the treatment his daughter is receiving. Asked if there's anything else they need, he says the only thing he would like is to be able to contact his wife and seven other children. They haven't heard from him since he and Zainab arrived in Prague last week. And he says he'd like to see a bit of the city. Could he get some kind of transport arranged?

Both requests can be met, he's assured.

Dr. Jan Skovranek says Zainab is here because an operation is the only way to treat her illness.

"She'll have the operation in a week or two because we have to give her vaccinations beforehand against infection. We've done that, and so we now have to wait for her immune system to form antibodies."

After that, she'll need another couple of weeks to convalesce. And after that?

One reporter asked, "Will things be better [than before the war] when you get back?"

Razzak (in Arabic), then interpreter (in English): "He doesn't want to return to Iraq because his financial situation in Iraq is very bad. He doesn't have anything there in Iraq."

Reporter (in Czech): "So he wants to stay here?"

Razzak (in Arabic), then interpreter (in Czech): "He's applied for asylum and would like to stay here."

Reporter (in Czech): "With his family?"

Razzak (in Arabic), then interpreter (in Czech): "If it's possible, so they can live a bit better. They suffered a lot under Saddam Hussein."

And then it's time for the visit to end. Zainab gives everyone another timid smile and manages a thumbs-up sign for the cameras.