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Dutch peacekeepers of Srebrenica given award, Muslims angry

November 08, 2006 10:54 AM

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands-The Dutch government plans to give a citation to troops who served as peacekeepers in Srebrenica but failed to stop the massacre of Bosnian Muslims 11 years ago in what was supposed to be a U.N.-protected safe haven.

The plan to award a unique insignia for duty at Srebrenica was meant to heal a painful wound in the military, which felt unfairly blamed for the massacre and its reputation unjustly tarnished.

But it outraged survivors and victims' families, who on Wednesday called it an insult to those who died.

Defense Minister Henk Kemp said in a letter to parliament dated Nov. 3 he will award the 850 troops of Dutchbat III an insignia at a ceremony on Dec. 4. He said the jacket pin "recognizes that they had to work under extremely difficult circumstances and did so honorably."

Kemp cited independent investigations exonerating the undermanned and ill-equipped Dutch battalion, which concluded the peacekeepers were powerless to halt the slaughter.

"This is shameful. We wonder how far can the humiliation of our victims can go," Hajra Catic, president of the Srebrenica Women's Association, a leading survivors' group, said in Sarajevo.

Bosnian Serb troops overran the eastern Bosnian enclave in 1995, which the United Nations had declared a safe zone. They separated women from men and boys, and went on a shooting rampage that lasted for more than a week, killing an estimated 8,000 Muslims in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

The humiliated Dutch troops returned home to scathing charges of cowardice or incompetence. Many soldiers required long-term trauma therapy.

The National Institute for War Documentation blamed the debacle on the Dutch government and the United Nations for sending the troops without a clear mandate, without adequate strength, and for refusing to send reinforcements when the Serbs attacked.

The report prompted the Dutch government to resign in 2002.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said Wednesday the troops themselves had asked for some form of recognition to compensate for the perceived abuse from the media and some politicians after the event.

"This is not a medal for courage or for special services," said the spokesman, speaking under ministry rules barring use of his name. "It is recognition that they were unrightfully judged."

Kemp's decision aroused little comment in the Netherlands.

Dion van den Berg, of the Interfaith Council for Peace, wrote in an opinion piece in the daily Trouw on Wednesday that the award was "a slap in the face" to the people of Srebrenica.

"I don't want to judge individual soldiers," she wrote, "but it's clear that Dutch politics failed in those days in July 1995, and that commanders in Srebrenica made mistakes."

In Sarajevo, protesters were more outspoken.

Amor Masovic, the head of Bosnian federation Commission for Search of Missing Persons called it "a mockery of victims."

"Soldiers carried out the orders of their superiors and they should not be specially punished but most surely must not be awarded for what they did in Srebrenica," Masovic said.

Fadila Efendic, who lost her husband and 15-year-old son in Srebrenica, said peacekeepers "did nothing," to protect civilians in Srebrenica. "In fact, they handed our men and boys to the Serbs," said Efendic, whose son's body is still missing.


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