Dutch deny they betrayed Srebrenica

Bosnia outrage: Report absolves troops of blame for incident that led to massacre of 8,000

The Dutch government said yesterday its United Nations peace-keeping troops bore no responsibility for the fall last July of the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, an episode in which Bosnian Serb forces are suspected of having slaughtered up to 8,000 unarmed Muslims. Presenting an official report into the disaster, the Dutch Defence Minister, Joris Voorhoeve, said Srebrenica's collapse had been primarily a consequence of Bosnian Serb aggression and badly implemented UN policies.

"The fall of Srebrenica was caused by Bosnian Serb aggression, not by the way in which Dutchbat [the Dutch UN battalion in the enclave] operated. The opposing forces were far superior in number and firepower. The small Dutch UN unit faced them alone," Mr Voorhoeve said.

He blamed UN member-states for doing too little to protect Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde, the three UN-declared Muslim "safe areas" of eastern Bosnia, although it was clear they were vulnerable to Bosnian Serb military pressure. "The way in which the UN and its member-states implemented the concept of the so-called safe areas failed dismally," he said.

The Independent reported yesterday that six weeks before Srebrenica's fall, the UN commander for former Yugoslavia, Lieutenant-General Bernard Janvier, had recommended a UN withdrawal from the enclave on the grounds that it was militarily indefensible.

Mr Voorhoeve confirmed that after the Bosnian Serbs attacked Srebrenica in July, UN commanders refused repeated requests from Dutch forces in the enclave for air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs.

The Serbs are alleged to have carried out the massacres after capturing Srebrenica and separating thousands of Muslim men and boys of fighting age from women and children.

They are said to have taken the males to locations where they were killed and buried in mass graves.

Describing the lightly armed and poorly supplied Dutch unit in Srebrenica as a "largely symbolic" UN presence, Mr Voorhoeve said it had been powerless to resist the tanks and heavy guns of the Bosnian Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic. "Had attempts been made to repel the Bosnian Serbs by force, this would have resulted in a bloodbath among the tens of thousands of [Muslim] refugees and among the Dutch blue-helmets," he said.

The report was commissioned partly to defend Dutch UN forces against claims that they did too little to protect Srebrenica's people against an orgy of Bosnian Serb violence.

Based on interviews with 460 Dutch military personnel who served in the enclave and with UN staff elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, the report argues that the Dutch soldiers did their best to perform their military and humanitarian duties.

n Washington - The United States will present a "detailed and very specific" peace document at the Bosnian peace talks which open this week, according to the chief US negotiator Richard Holbrooke, Rupert Cornwell writes.

But he warned there was no guarantee of success in the "immensely difficult" negotiations that lay ahead. Speaking just before his departure to Dayton, Ohio, where the "proximity talks" begin under a virtual news black-out at the Wright- Patterson US Air Force base tomorrow, Mr Holbrooke gave a pessimistic assessment of the prospects of a deal between the presidents of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia to end to the war in former Yugoslavia.

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