Another Dutch Head Rolls Over Bosnia

The shadow of Srebrenica refugee is seen through a banner with names of Srebrenica victims during a protest in front of the Netherland's Embassy in Sarajevo, Thursday, April 11, 2002. 020417, GD
The Netherlands' top general resigned Wednesday, a day after the government quit over criticism that Dutch leaders failed to prevent the 1995 massacre of Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Gen. Ad van Baal, the army chief of staff, agreed to step down after meetings with the exiting defense minister, Frank de Grave, state television reported, citing a letter to Parliament from de Grave.

Meanwhile, a former British envoy said Dutch troops blamed for the worst massacre of the Bosnia war were put in an impossible situation by the United Nations, United States, France and Britain.

Lord Owen, joint author of the Vance-Owen peace plan which preceded the Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-95 war, said a lack of commitment by the international community and not a failure by Dutch troops had led to the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in a supposed safe-area in Srebrenica in 1995.

"There is no doubt that the three foreign ministers —Warren Christopher, Douglas Hurd and Alain Juppe — ignored the advice of Cyrus Vance and myself," Owen told the BBC Wednesday.

"We needed a substantial number of troops. Initially they (military chiefs) asked for 32,000, it was then whittled down to 15,000, it was then quite disgracefully whittled down to 7,000 and a year after the safe haven resolution they still hadn't provided 6,000 troops."

Van Baal had come under pressure to accept responsibility for mistakes made by military commanders, including his predecessors, who a report last week said intentionally withheld information from government officials to preserve the military's reputation.

The government of Prime Minister Wim Kok quit Tuesday, taking responsibility — but not blame — for the peacekeeping mission that ended in a weeklong orgy of murder by Bosnian Serb troops under General Ratko Mladic, a wanted war criminal who remains at large.

European Union Commissioner Javier Solana, speaking in Sarajevo, said the ultimate blame for the massacre rested with the Bosnian Serbs who overran the enclave.

"Those who were responsible for Srebrenica are not where they should be in front of the international tribunal, having a fair trial," he said.

The Institute for Investigation of War Crimes in Sarajevo echoed Owen's condemnation.

"There was no political will within the United Nations and international community as a whole to stop the Serbian aggressor and his collaborators in Bosnia and prevent the genocide," director of the Institute for Investigation of War Crimes Smail Cekic told a news conference in Sarajevo.

Kok, who was prime minister at the time of the Srebrenica massacre, entered a special parliamentary session Wednesday to face questioning about his decision to resign.

He stepped down six days after an independent report was released concluding that Dutch forces did little to prevent Serb forces from rounding up Muslims who had sought refuge in a U.N.-declared "safe area."

The report by the Netherlands' Institute for War Documentation accused political leaders of carrying out an "ill-conceived plan" to boost Dutch international prestige. Unprepared troops were sent on a "mission impossible" to defend about 30,000 refugees who fled Serb forces in the surrounding hills, it said.

Kok resigned, saying the international community "is anonymous and cannot take responsibility" for botching its Bosnia peacekeeping operation. "I can and I do," he said.

However, he said the Netherlands did not "accept blame for the gruesome murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in 1995, (only) partial political responsibility for the circumstances in which they happened."

Blame for the slayings lies with Mladic, Kok said.

Some 200 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers stood by as Mladic ordered Muslim men and women in Srebrenica separated. The women were deported and the men and boys were executed.

The reports said Dutch troops were hampered by orders not to fire unless fired upon, and the military command had not provided the mandate needed to respond to 1,500 Serb attackers. The United Nations had declared Srebrenica a "safe zone" without defining what that meant, the report said.

In a special parliamentary session Tuesday, Kok faced questioning about his decision to resign just six days after the release of the politically loaded report.

His government remains in a caretaker capacity until after previously scheduled elections have been held next month, handling day-today affairs. Officials said Romano Prodi, the head of the European Union executive Commission, has already canceled a meeting with Kok to discuss the Middle East.

There will likely be a full inquiry by the Dutch parliament at which former ministers and commanders will be called to testify under oath. No date has yet been set.

"I see a parliamentary inquiry as an instrument to find the truth," said Ad Melkert, Kok's successor as Labor Party chief.

"Yesterday's resignation of (Dutch Prime Minister Wim) Kok's cabinet will not make any dead come back to life," wrote the German newspaper Die Welt. "However, it could show the survivors of Serbian terror that at least one European government is showing real responsibility for long failure to render assistance."