Badges of dishonour - 2
by Marcus Tanner
The Bosnian Presidency has lodged an official protest with the Netherlands after members of the Dutch battalion that failed to protect the ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica were decorated by their government. The defence minister, Henk Kamp, pinned insignia on some of the 850 members of the ill-fated battalion headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Karremans. Accusations of responsibility for Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War, when Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995, led to the fall of the Dutch government in 2002. At the ceremony, Mr Kamp said the battalion was powerless to prevent the massacre.
The thousands of victims boarded buses that suddenly arrived the day the Dutch commander had toasted Srebrenica's new overlord, General Ratko Mladić, at the UN base in the village of Potocari. Clutching Serb pledges and impressed by Mladić's phoney display of bonhomie for the cameras, when he dished out sweets to a few stunned-looking children, the doomed men took quiet leave of wives and daughters, murmuring, ‘I'll see you soon’, ‘We'll all meet in Tuzla’, and ‘Everything will be fine’. But those silent Serbian bus drivers did not head west on the main road into government territory in Tuzla or Kalesija as Mladić said they would. They swerved abruptly off the highway to deserted, ethnically cleansed hamlets where the men and boys were taken off, blindfolded, herded into sealed locations such as the school gym at Karakaj and the football stadium in Bratunac, and massacred.
Then the killers combed the pine forests between Srebrenica and Tuzla, desperately trying to track down the 23,000 fugitive Muslims who had made a run for it, despite Mladić's booming, jovial promise: ‘Nothing will happen to you’. Thousands of executions went on until 17 July. The Dutch left Srebrenica on 21 July. Only when a few survivors staggered into Tuzla did the scale of Mladić's atrocity dawn on them. Colonel Karremans and his men are objects of deep, abiding contempt, feelings in no way mitigated by bouts of Dutch hand-wringing, the fall of the government in the Hague and the release of a detailed reports on who did what in those muddled July days.
Yesterday, in Sarajevo, a representative of the Mothers of Srebrenica condemned the Dutch government's awards to the soldiers, some now out of the army. ‘Something the entire world would be ashamed of, the Dutch reward it,’ said Kada Hotić. ‘This is for the Hall of Shame.’
This comment appeared in The Independent (London), 6 December 2006