Shame Of Srebrenica

Who Is To Blame?

The people of Holland have a new government this summer. The old cabinet resigned in April amid a wave of harsh criticism on the role of Dutch Peacekeepers in a place called Srebrenica.

Srebrenica is the town in Bosnia, where Serb forces slaughtered nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys near the end of the war there in 1995. It was the Serbs who did the killing, but as Correspondent Bob Simon first reported in 1999, the shame of Srebrenica has fallen on that other group of soldiers: the Dutch, sent to the town as UN peacekeepers;

The Dutch who had such high ideals when they volunteered for what was then the most dangerous job in the Balkans, and who only recently started to talk about what they saw, what they did and what they didn't do.

It took only days after the massacre in 1995 for U.S. spy planes to photograph freshly ploughed fields near Srebrenica, a small city in Bosnia. It wasn't planting season.

The truth on the ground was even more gruesome. A thin veil of earth concealed the biggest mass graves dug in Europe since World War II. Work was still continuing three and a half years after the massacre. Still more graves will be uncovered next spring. These graves tell the story of a well-planned job carried out systematically and methodically.

The bodies are still coming in, evidence of a colossal war crime. The Dutch troops, whose mandate was to prevent the massacre, have been home for three years. Many are now speaking out.

"We came there to help. We came there to protect them," says warrant officer Wim Dijkema, who belonged to the Dutch battalion which was sent to Srebrenica to stop an attack on the town. "We came there with a will to do as much as we could, but we failed them."

When the attack began the Dutch tried to help. They called in air strikes. Dijkema filmed the Dutch hiding in the safety of their bunker while two NATO planes destroyed one Serb tank. But then Serb general Ratko Mladic threatened to kill the U.N. peacekeeper if the air strikes continued. So the air strikes stopped, and the defense of Srebrenica was effectively over.

The 160 Dutch troops put up no resistance to the thousands of Serb militia men. The Serbs took the town quickly. Mladic walked the streets congratulating his men but he wasn't ready to celebrate. He wanted more than the town. He wanted the Muslims and he was in a hurry.

Thousand of fearful Muslims fled to Portocari, a suburb of Srebrenica, which was the site of the main Dutch base. But there was no safe place for Srebrenica's Muslim men. General Mladic was on the scene to make sure of that.

Serb soldiers closed in on the U.N. compound. Five thousand terrified refugees had been let in the gates. More than 20,000 others were stranded outside with only the Dutch peacekeepers between them and the Serbs. The Dutch made a brief attempt to keep the Serb troops away from the Muslim refugees but they were outnumbered and outgunned. The Dutch had 160 combat troops facing thousands of Serbs.

The women and children were bused across the front line and dumped in safe territory. The men, thousands of them, were bused to neighboring Serb villages, lined up and shot.

Could the Dutch have resisted or at least defended the refugees until help arrived? Major Rob Franken, the Dutch second in command, was in charge of the troops on the ground. He says no: "If we would have started the firing there would be a massacre. I was absolutely convinced of that."

One thing all parties agree on is that the Dutch cooperated with the Serbs in making sure that the evacuation ran smoothly. In fact, they strung up a tape to create a path for the refugees to follow. The tape ended at what was the gate. That's where the Serbs took over and separated the men from the women and teh children

Hasan Nuhanovic was working as a translator for the U.N. when Srebrenica fell. He recalls the scene: "They just planned everything to efficiently empty out the camp. Just tell the people to walk like cattle toward the gate."

Hidden from the Serbs, Wim Dijkema continued to film. At the time he didn't fully realize he was documenting the first stage of genocide.

Says Dijkema: "I realized I had been very naive. When Mladic said I guarantee their safety, that I believed him. For me it's unbelievable now at this moment. But at the time perhaps I wanted to believe him."

Asked if it occurred to him that the Serbs were going to slaughter these men, he says: "Of course it occurred to me, but I ask myself over and over again, what could we have done?"

Initially, the Dutch tried to do something. Major Franken sent a few troops to accompany the first busloads of male refugees. But the Serbs took away their Jeeps, their weapons, even their uniforms.

As the compound emptied out Hasan Nuhanovic began to panic. He was a U.N. employee. He could stay. But his family had sought refuge in the compound too, and the Dutch insisted that his brother be haded over to the Serbs. Hasan knew that if his brother went, his mother and father would go too. He made a final plea to Major Franken.

"One last time I asked him if I could keep my brother with me inside the camp because he said the interpreters could stay," says Hasan. "But he didn't allow it... My brother and mother and father walked out of the camp."

Hasan's family and more than 8,000 other Muslims from Srebrenica have never been seen again. General Mladic has been indicted for war crimes but never arrested. And the Dutch are home in Holland, where Srebrenica is the name of a nightmare.

"It was just a nightmare and it still is a nightmare," says Hasan. "It's not finished yet because I still don't know what happened."

He continues: "I want to know every detail what happened to my family from the moment they walked out from this camp to the moment they were killed or put in some prison or something. I want to know every detail. Without that I'm not going to have any rest for the rest of my life."