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A woman standing near the tombstones in the Memorial cemetery in Potocari-Srebrenica that honours the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. A woman standing near the tombstones in the Memorial cemetery in Potocari-Srebrenica that honours the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.  (AFP or licensors)

Dutch PM apologizes to troops over Srebrenica Massacre

The prime minister of the Netherlands has apologized to soldiers who were sent as United Nations peacekeepers to defend the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica with what he believes was insufficient firepower and manpower to keep the peace. Mark Rutte made the remarks 27 years after thousands of Muslim men and boys were killed in Europe's worst single atrocity since World War Two.

By Stefan J. Bos 

For late Pope Saint John Paul II, it was a "crime against humanity" that plunged Europe into "the abyss of abjection." Pope Francis has also condemned the massacre. The killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica 27 years ago remains an open wound, including in the Netherlands. 

On Saturday, the Netherlands' Prime Minister Rutte apologized to Dutch soldiers who failed to prevent Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War. 

Rutte claimed that Dutch troops had been assigned an "impossible task" and given too few soldiers and too little firepower.

"Today, I apologize on behalf of the Dutch government to all the women and men of Dutchbat III. To you and the people who can't be here today," Rutte said. "With the greatest possible appreciation and respect for the way Dutchbat III under difficult circumstances kept trying to do good, even when that was no longer possible."

Bosnian Serb forces carried out the massacre when overrunning Srebrenica, a U.N. safe zone, near the end of the three-year Bosnian War in July 1995.

International rulings have concluded that the killings constituted genocide. 

Dutch criticized

Bitter criticism over the tragedy has been leveled at the Dutch command and peacekeepers, the Dutch government, and United Nations officials.

Several rulings have found the Dutch state liable.

However, Rutte also acknowledged former peacekeepers' anger over what they view as the failure of authorities to provide enough support for them to do their job.

That's why the ceremony included Bronze Medal of Honor awards for Dutchbat veterans from Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren.

Yet, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that at least 350 of the slain Bosnians could have been saved but were ejected from the Dutch peacekeepers' base. The court found that this happened despite being "in serious jeopardy of being abused and murdered" by Bosnian Serb forces.

However, Rutte blamed wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic for the genocide. Both men serve long sentences for war crimes and genocide, raising questions about whether Europe could have done more to keep the peace. 

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos
19 June 2022, 17:30