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Failure of Peacekeepers to Stop Bosnian Massacre Examined - 2002-04-11

A Dutch government report says the Netherlands and the United Nations share some responsibility for the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims near the town of Srebrenica. The document blames U.N. and Dutch leaders for not giving peacekeepers the means to defend the local population from Bosnian-Serb forces.

The 7,000 page report by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation took nearly six years to compile.

It says the approximately 200 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers assigned to defend Srebrenica faced an impossible task in protecting local civilians when the town was overrun by Bosnian-Serb forces in 1995. Srebrenica had been designated a "U.N. safe zone".

Up to 8,000 Bosnian-Muslim men and boys were rounded up and later massacred by the Bosnian-Serb forces.

Although the report blames Bosnian-Serb military commander Ratko Mladic for the massacre, it says Dutch officers commanding the peacekeepers share some responsibility for handing civilians over to the invaders.

It says the peacekeepers did not oppose the Bosnian Serbs' separation of Muslim men and boys from women after General Mladic's forces captured the town. But it says the Dutch troops believed that the only hope for civilians was to evacuate Srebrenica and collaborated with the Bosnian Serbs in that effort.

The report makes clear that, although Dutch officers feared, what it calls, "the danger of excesses" by the Bosnian Serbs, they did not anticipate a wide-scale massacre of civilians.

The document blames the United Nations for giving the Dutch peacekeepers an "unclear" mandate. It says U.N. rules of engagement prevented the Dutch troops from responding to the Bosnian-Serb attack on Srebrenica because they were not directly targeted by the invaders.

It also blames top U.N. peacekeeping officials for ruling out airstrikes to back up the Dutch troops in the enclave. It says that, without such outside support, the heavily outnumbered Dutch soldiers would have been defenseless in a confrontation with Bosnian-Serb forces.

One further conclusion of the report's authors is that there is no proof that Serb leaders in Belgrade, including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, ordered or supported the massacre. Mr. Milosevic, currently on trial at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, is charged with genocide in connection with the events at Srebrenica.