Dutch and French agonise over Srebrencia Massacre

THE HAGUE, Jul 12, 2000 -- (AFP) Five years after the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslims in Sreberenica, a group of Dutch intellectuals questioned Tuesday whether Dutch troops assigned to protect the civilians could have saved them from Bosnian Serbs.

A Paris-based humanitarian group also said Tuesday it would ask the French parliament to set up an inquiry into French military action ahead of the taking of Sreberenica.

Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk reiterated a recurrent demand for a parliamentary inquiry into the killings in Srebrenica, from where a 150-strong Dutch contingent withdrew, leaving the Muslims to their fate.

Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, was a Moslem enclave and UN-declared "safe area" until July 1995 when Serb forces brushed aside lightly-armed Dutch UN peacekeepers, overran the zone and slaughtered at least 7,000 male inhabitants.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last November the troops did not have the means to hold off the Serbs.

Colonel Ton Karremans, commander of the battalion at the time, later accused his French and British superiors, Generals Bernard Janvier and Rupert Smith, of ignoring appeals for assistance.

But the Dutch public remains haunted by the failure of the troops to prevent the atrocity, considered the worst in Europe since World War II.

"The crucial question is: could and should the Dutch battalion have done more to save human lives?" some 40 Dutch intellectuals and writers asked in an open letter.

The group accused the center-left government of Prime Minister Wim Kok of attempting to evade the topic, and demanded a public apology for what they called the desertion of Srebrenica.

"There is no doubt as to the guilt of the Netherlands as far as I'm concerned," said Ronald Giphart, a popular novelist who initiated the open letter.

A series of enquiries, a UN report and assurances by The Hague international war crimes tribunal on Yugoslavia have done nothing to lay the ghosts of this tragedy in the Netherlands.

"We need public repentance for the fall of the enclave and the deportation of people which Dutch units did nothing seriously to prevent, as well as for the fact that we didn't offer any protection" said Giphart.

Environment Minister Pronk reiterated calls for a parliamentary committee. "I don't believe all the questions have been cleared up," he told the newspaper Volkskrant.

"The government decided that we (the Dutch contingent) would withdraw in responsible fashion as far as the Muslims were concerned," he said.

"The main question is: how were we able to let our men withdraw given the responsibility they had?" Pronk asked.

Dutch forces have since been dogged by allegations that they destroyed evidence, including photographs and video footage, that allegedly showed Dutch soldiers helping Bosnian Serb forces round up and separate Bosnian Muslims after the fall of Srebrenica.

Karremans, the battalion's commander, is still paying the price in his country for having drunk a toast with Bosnian Serb military chief Radko Mladic on the same evening as the enclave was seized. Mladic is now one of the top suspects wanted by the international war crimes tribunal.

But six enquiries by independent commissions and the Dutch courts said there was no grounds for a prosecution against Dutch troops.

Only one report accused the authorities in 1998 of amateurism in the management of the crisis.

In Paris, the aid organsiation Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Frontiers) marked the fifth anniversary by announcing it would ask parliament to set up an inquiry into France's responsibility for the fall of Srebrenica.

"Five years after the massacres of Srebrenica, a security zone 'protected' by FORPRONU (the UN protection force) no parliamentary commission in France has yet investigated the circumstances in which the civilian population was abandoned," a statement said.

Original article