Srebrenica: Dutch government to admit its troops had an impossible job
The Dutch cabinet this weekend will officially acknowledge that Dutch soldiers working under the auspices of the UN during the Bosnian war were sent on an impossible mission to protect the so-called UN ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica.
It was overrun by Bosnian Serbs in 1995, when some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were executed over the course of five July days.
The Telegraaf newspaper reports that prime minister Mark Rutte, minister of defence Kajsa Ollongren and Dutch defence chief Onno Eichelsheim will meet with Dutchbat III veterans this Saturday at the Oranjekazerne military barracks in Schaarsbergen to acknowledge the unit’s unfair treatment and likely express its appreciation for the soldiers.
Dutch soldiers and researchers from NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, have said that the 300 so-called blue helmets were unfairly blamed for failing to protect the enclave and the thousands of Bosnians who had taken refuge there. While veterans say they are happy with the upcoming official acknowledgement, they say it is only the beginning of the battalion’s rehabilitation.
‘Even though it is not true, the story keeps coming back after all these years,’ Dutchbat veteran Remko de Bruijne told the Telegraaf. De Bruijne, who now runs a gym for veterans, says although he remains on friendly terms with the relatives of Srebrenica’s victims, he feels jointly responsible for Europe’s only legally recognised genocide since WWII.
‘I can still put it into perspective. I was there and I know what I did,’ De Bruijne told the paper. ‘There was no good choice there. Just a bad one or a really bad one…. For the vast majority of Dutchbat soldiers, they were unable to act at all because they were part of a staff or support unit. If you can’t do anything you become frustrated, powerless. It leads to trauma. Especially when your employer does nothing to correct the skewed picture. It’s good that it’s happening now.’
The Dutchbat III association, which advocates for the interests of its former combatants, wants to see an end to the years’-long personal injury proceedings that some dozens of Dutchbat soldiers are said to still be going through. It claims 28 of the battalion’s members have died from cancers that could only have been caused by chemical exposure.
A 2002 NIOD-commissioned report that found Dutch troops were sent on an impossible mission with inadequate preparation and leadership led to the fall of the Dutch government days later.
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