Thu, Dec 07, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Bosnia angered by medal award

THE GUARDIAN , ZAGREB

The Bosnian leadership protested bitterly to the Netherlands on Tuesday over the awards of medals to Dutch peacekeepers who stood by and did nothing during the infamous massacre, in 1995, of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

Haris Silajdzic, a former prime minister and a member of the three-man Bosnian presidency, said he had called in the Dutch ambassador in Sarajevo to demand an explanation for the military ceremony that was conducted at a barracks in eastern Holland on Monday.

Dutch Defense Minister Henk Kamp unveiled a plaque at the barracks praising the troops who failed to act to prevent the atrocity at Srebrenica when the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, seized the enclave in eastern Bosnia, separated the males from the women and children and then organized the mass murder of almost 8,000 men over 10 days in July 1995.

The episode constituted the worst single atrocity of the 1992 to 1995 war in Bosnia and the only event in the 42-month war that the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague has categorized as genocide.

General Mladic has been charged with genocide but has been a fugitive for 11 years.

An official inquiry in 2002 cleared the troops of complicity but criticized the Dutch authorities, triggering a symbolic resignation of the Dutch government.

Families of the victims have been trying to sue the Dutch state in the courts in the Netherlands because of alleged co-responsibility for the massacre.

Mass graves containing the remains of victims are still being discovered and bodies exhumed.

But on Monday in Assen, Kamp handed out medals to 500 members of the Dutch battalion stationed at Srebrenica, a so-called UN safe haven, ostensibly under protection when it was overrun by the Serbs.

"We are doing this to support our people," Kamp said. "These people are in the military ... It is difficult for them and we want to support them," he added.

The medals were to acknowledge that the Dutch troops had "for years wrongly been held responsible for what happened in the enclave," Kamp said.

Tom Karremans, the Dutch commander at Srebrenica present at the ceremony on Monday, was photographed socializing and drinking with General Mladic. The Dutch were said to have obtained the release of 14 kidnapped peacekeepers in return for not obstructing the Serbian operation.

Protests were staged in Sarajevo and other Bosnian towns denouncing the military decorations as "scandalous."

Protests were also held in the Netherlands.

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