World

Dutch premier apologises to Srebrenica peacekeeping veterans

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte delivers a speech during a meeting with veterans of Dutchbat III in the Oranjekazerne in Schaarsbergen, on June 18, 2022. – The soldiers who had to guard the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in 1995 are receiving formal apologies from the Dutch government. (Photo by Remko de Waal / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has apologised to the outgunned peacekeepers sent to defend Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995, saying there were lessons for the world’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The lightly armed Dutch UN peacekeepers were overwhelmed by Bosnian Serb forces led by Ratko Mladic, and almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys went on to be killed in the Srebrenica genocide.

Rutte told veterans from the so-called Dutchbat III force at a military base at Schaarsbergen in the eastern Netherlands on Saturday that “almost 27 years later, some words have still not been spoken.”

“Today, on behalf of the Dutch government, I apologise to all the women and men of Dutchbat III. To you and to the people who are not here today,” Rutte said.

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He said the peacekeepers had “always tried to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, even when that was no longer possible”.

The force’s failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre — the worst in Europe since World War II — has been a stain on the Dutch national conscience ever since.

Rutte apologised for the “lack of support” from the government when they were criticised on their return home.

The Dutch veterans were right to ask “where was the world” when the Srebrenica massacre was happening, Rutte added.

“And of course today we are also thinking: where are we now, now that the people of Ukraine are suffering from brutal Russian aggression,” he said.

“How painful is it that there is war again on our continent and that war crimes are being committed again just a few hours’ flight from here?”

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Russia has been accused of war crimes in Ukraine, particularly in towns around Kyiv where hundreds of bodies have been found.

The Dutch supreme court ruled in 2019 that the state had a limited liability for the deaths of 350 men who had sought safety in the peacekeepers’ base, but were later expelled and killed by Bosnian Serb forces.

The peacekeepers became overwhelmed at the base and shut the gates to new arrivals before allowing Mladic’s forces to evacuate the refugees.

The men and boys were separated and taken in buses to their deaths, their bodies dumped in mass graves.

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