Dutch troops ignored Bosnia killings

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The Independent Online
Dutch soldiers failed to prevent atrocities against thousands of Muslim men from the UN safe area of Srebrenica, even though they had the means to do so. The admissions by soldiers and defence officials have added to a growing sense of shame in the Netherlands over the performance of its soldiers in Bosnia.

It is 10 weeks since the enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serbs and thousands of Muslim men were reportedly executed. Details of a lack of Dutch military resolve as well as UN dithering in the face of some of the most heinous war crimes since the Second World War have prompted an official military inquiry in the Netherlands. "It wasn't easy, watching wives and kids taken away from their men," said a Dutch corporal, who asked not be named. "Perhaps we could have done more, but many of us would be dead."

Until recently, the Dutch government and United Nations Peace Force (UNPF) officials in Zagreb maintained the 350 lightly armed Dutch troops were no match for the more numerous and better armed Serbs who overran the enclave on 11 July.

But interviews with Dutch soldiers by the Independent and NRC Handelsblad in Rotterdam show that despite earlier claims to the contrary, the UN forces in Srebrenica had TOW anti-tank weapons which could have halted the Serb advance at various times. They were told not to use them. "We had the TOW system, two in each APC [armoured personnel carrier], and it was working, but we were not allowed to use them," said Sergeant Johan Bos, an anti-tank unit commander with the Royal Dutch Army's 13th Air Mobile Infantry Battalion, assigned to protect the safe area.

According to Sgt Bos, TOW missiles could have been used on at least two occasions when Bosnian Serb tanks attacked Dutch posts on 7 and 9 July. Two months before, British forces at an observation post in Maglaj successfully used TOWs to stop a Bosnian Serb tank attack.

The Dutch Defence Minister, Joris Voorhoeve, told parliament last month that when he realised the magnitude of the Serb offensive, he told the UN he was opposed to any combat between Dutch forces and the Bosnian Serbs because it would result in "useless bloodshed".

Air-strike threat lifted, page 10