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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
Dutch soul-searching over Srebrenica
Refugees flee Srebrenica, 1993
Srebrenica: One of Europe's darkest episodes
By Geraldine Coughlan in The Hague

In a few days time Dragan Obrenovic will appear in court to answer charges of involvement in the mass killings at Srebrenica in 1995.

His arrest comes as the events of Srebrenica are being re-examined both in the tribunal in The Hague and at an inquiry in Paris into the greatest peacekeeping failure of the Bosnian conflict.

The spectre of Srebrenica has also raised difficult questions for the Dutch people over their nation's prominent role in the tragedy.

Refugees leave Srebenica
Thousands were forced to flee for their lives
Some 7,000 Muslims are believed to have been executed at Srebrenica in what has been described as the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II.

The current trial of Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic, charged with genocide at Srebrenica, has heard emotional testimony from some of the Dutch peacekeepers, charged with protecting the Muslim enclave.

At one point, a judge referred to "the shame" felt in the Netherlands, in the wake of the Srebrenica tragedy.


Demonstrators have recently staged protests outside the tribunal, calling on the Dutch government to do more to secure the arrests of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, for their alleged role in the massacre.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic
Radovan Karadzic: Believed to be hiding in eastern Bosnia
During the past few days, former Dutch Defence Minister Joris Voorhoeve and former Foreign Affairs Minister Hans van Mierlo have been testifying before a parliamentary commission in Paris, on the circumstances surrounding the fall of Srebrenica.

France opened its inquiry last year following allegations that the French UN commander General Janvier agreed to block air strikes against Bosnian Serbs in exchange for the release of hundreds of UN peacekeepers being held hostage, many of them French.

Dutch ministers dismiss these allegations as speculation, but Mr Voorhoeve said he had feared a Serb assault, and requested aerial support from General Janvier on the eve of the attack.

But by the next day - 11 July - the Serb army had taken over.

There has been criticism in the media at home, of the Dutch ministers' contribution to the Paris hearing, based on concerns that they are not being forthright enough about their involvement in the tragedy.

Foot-dragging allegations

The ministers have refused to talk to Dutch reporters, saying they prefer to restrict their statements to the hearing.

Soul-searching over Srebrenica will go on in the Netherlands for a long time to come

The general feeling in the Dutch papers is that MR Voorhoeve and Mr Mierlo have been too closely monitored by civil servants and have not contributed anything new to the Paris commission.

Two key figures in the events at Srebrenica - the Dutch military Commander Karremans and the UNPROFOR Chief of Staff General Nicolai are due to appear at the Paris hearing this week, but are expected to offer few new facts or revelations about the tragedy.

But the soul-searching over Srebrenica will go on in the Netherlands for a long time to come and demand for a formal public enquiry appears to be growing.

In the meantime, the spectre of Srebrenica at upcoming trials at the War Crimes tribunal at The Hague will be a constant reminder to the Dutch people of their nation's prominent role in this historic peacekeeping failure.

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | Europe
Full text of Nato statement
10 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
02 Apr 01 | Europe
Timeline: Bosnia-Hercegovina
04 Oct 00 | Europe
UN prosecutor hints at arrests
14 Oct 00 | Europe
Bosnia war: Main players
14 Mar 00 | Europe
Flashback: Srebrenica 1995
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