SAS hero defies gag over massacre
by Jon Swain
A former SAS sergeant who won the Military Cross for bravery in Bosnia is this weekend defying a Ministry of Defence gagging order by revealing details of Europe's worst war crime since 1945. The 43-year-old man was part of a two-man SAS team sent into the doomed town of Srebrenica before it was seized by Bosnian Serbs, who massacred 7,000 Muslims. He fears arrest by the MoD for revealing how the United Nations and Nato abandoned the Muslims to their deaths.
The former soldier was instructed to sign a draconian non-disclosure order after the fall of Srebrenica, but believes passionately that details of what he calls the UN ‘sell-out’ are too important to conceal. Today The Sunday Times serialises his story. It is an unprecedented eyewitness account by a member of Britain's military elite of the raw consequences of Western policy failure in Bosnia. It exposes how the UN and NATO were prepared to abandon thousands of Muslims to a bloody fate rather than fight off the attacking Serbs.
The former soldier, who is willing to be photographed but uses the pseudonym Nick Cameron to protect his family, was ordered into Srebrenica in 1995 when the Bosnian Serb army was menacing its population of nearly 50,000 Muslim refugees. He acted as the eyes and ears of the United Nations command in Sarajevo, reporting to Major-General Rupert Smith, the British UN commander.
When the Serbs attacked, most of the Dutch UN troops stationed in Srebrenica stood back and Cameron found himself manning last-ditch defences alongside Muslim fighters, two British colleagues and three Dutch commandos. The citation to his Military Cross says he ‘showed magnificent leadership, coolness and courage in the highest traditions of the Special Air Service Regiment’. In the strickentown's death throes - pounded by artillery fire on an exposed hill just 200 yards from Serbian positions - Cameron relayed target co-ordinates to the UN command in Sarajevo for action by NATO aircraft. After a long delay, a pair of Dutch F-16s attacked two tanks but had no effect on the Serbian advance. An American plane also appeared, but took no action before flying off. ‘I had visions of swarms of angry aircraft diving and destroying the attacking Serb targets at will. There was nothing . . . We waited and waited,’ Cameron said. He says he was told afterwards by his SAS commander, who was serving with the UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo, that the UN had ‘never intended to fight for this place. That was never the plan'. Cameron concluded that ‘the whole UN thing was to get Srebrenica finished with’.
After the fall of the town, at least 7,000 Muslim men and boys were divided from women and children with the co-operation of the Dutch. They were then taken away and murdered by the Serbs under the command of General Ratko Mladic. Cameron looks back with remorse. ‘I spent many sleepless nights wondering about Srebrenica. I thought of the women and children without fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. I thought of the men in the mass graves in northeast Bosnia.’ He is convinced that had the UN authorised NATO airstrikes the Serb advance and the massacre would not have occurred. ‘There was always the UN military structure in place, but no political will,’ he said.
The Dutch peacekeeping troops have since been accused of cowardice. The criticism brought down the Dutch government after an official inquiry reported earlier this year. Cameron says the Dutch should not be blamed for the massacre. ‘The decision to abandon Srebrenica was not taken by the Dutch battalion, nor did we (the SAS) make it. The soldiers on the ground became scapegoats for the indecision by the UN diplomats,’ he said. ‘The Dutch and myself and the other boys there are implicated in what went wrong . . . because we did not fulfil our duty in protecting the people of Srebrenica.’ That may be justified, but not to the extent that has been portrayed. ‘There were some very brave Dutchmen there who, within those very difficult circumstances, were trying to do the best they could.’
This article appeared in The Sunday Times, 7 July 2000 as an introduction to the serialization of the testimony of ‘Nick Cameron’ over several pages of this and the two following issues of the paper.