Testament of betrayal
by Sunday Times
Fifty years after the end of the second world war, the worst atrocity in Europe since Hitler's reign of terror was perpetrated in Bosnia. In 1995 Serbian forces seized control of what remained of the town of Srebrenica, separated more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys from the rest of the population and massacred them. The name Srebrenica, like Auschwitz and Guernica, has become a permanent reminder of man's savagery and the hatreds generated by ethnic rivalry. Srebrenica, however, need not have happened. The Muslims were abandoned to their fate by the United Nations, whose task it was to protect them. Today's account in The Sunday Times by ‘Nick Cameron’, a pseudonym for the former SAS sergeant who won the Military Cross in Bosnia, is the first from an insider who both witnessed the horrors of Srebrenica and is aware of the UN's culpability. This is a story that the Ministry of Defence did not want told and tried desperately to gag. Before he left the army he was forced to sign an all-embracing non-disclosure order. The MoD treated his request to tell his story with contempt. Yet Cameron does not betray any military secrets nor write anything that could be useful to an enemy. What he does disclose is the West's abject failure. This is what the authorities were desperate to keep under wraps.
In 1993 Lieutenant-General Philippe Morillon, then the commander of the UN mission in Bosnia, visited Srebrenica. The UN declared it a ‘safe area’. An agreement was struck for the Muslims to disarm and for the Serbs to stop attacking. There was never any serious prospect, as Cameron makes clear, of this being enforced. His own SAS commander told him that there had never been any plan to defend Srebrenica. It was, he said, ‘never intended to fight for this place. That was never the plan'. Had the besieged Muslims known the intricacies of UN terminology, they would have risked their lives in the encircling minefields rather than entrust them to the blue berets. A ‘safe area’ - Srebrenica was the first to be declared - has little meaning; in contrast a ‘safe haven’ would have required the UN to intervene when the Serbs launched their final, vicious attack.
No such intervention happened. Dutch UN troops stationed in Srebrenica made no attempt to resist the advancing Serbs. As the town was about to fall, Cameron desperately called UN headquarters to send in NATO planes and waited for ‘swarms of angry aircraft diving and destroying the attacking Serbian targets at will. There was nothing.’ The UN had prior warning and it had the military firepower at its disposal. Instead it stood aside. Even now, extraordinarily, the reasons for the UN's conduct are not known. Under UN Security Council resolution 536 the local forces were ostensibly under standing orders to use ‘the necessary measures, including the use of force’ to protect Srebrenica. Either General Bernard Janvier, the local commander, chose to ignore these orders or he was incompetent at putting them into force. Perhaps worse, the Security Council quietly agreed to the abandonment of the safe areas. The UN was shamed into action by Srebrenica. Two weeks later, after the Serbs bombed the marketplace in Sarajevo, its forces hit back and hastened the end of the war. By then, of course, it was too late for the 7,000 men and boys.
The case is not closed on Srebrenica. In April the entire Dutch cabinet, led by the prime minister Wim Kok, resigned after a report criticised the government for sending troops into a war zone without a proper mandate and the Dutch army for being more concerned about its own survival than protecting Muslims. Last year Radislav Krstiƒ, a Bosnian Serb general, was jailed for 46 years by the Hague tribunal for his part in the massacre. But General Ratko Mladiƒ, who ordered the slaughter, is still free. And the senior UN officials, civil and military, who connived in the bloodiest, most brutal example of ethnic cleansing in Europe in modern times, have yet to receive as much as a formal reprimand. Future generations will read Cameron's account and wonder how, at the end of the 20th century, an act of such wanton brutality could have been allowed.
This editorial appeared in The Sunday Times, 7 July 2002. The testimony of ‘Nick Cameron’ was serialized over several pages in this and the following two issues of the paper.