Dutch UN Peacekeepers Questioned as US, NATO Prep for Bosnia Mission
TUZLA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — AS US soldiers train in Germany for a new NATO peacekeeping effort in Bosnia, questions about the conduct of Dutch peacekeepers in the fallen UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica are multiplying.
Muslim refugees are directly contradicting Dutch government accounts of what happened following the fall of the eastern enclave to Bosnian Serb forces in July.
The Muslims say Dutch peacekeepers laughed as the town's residents begged for help, joked with Bosnian Serb soldiers, and initially dismissed reports that Muslim civilians outside the Dutch UN base were being executed by the Serbs.
Human rights groups have criticized the UN and the Dutch peacekeepers for not safeguarding about 30,000 women, children, and elderly men who fled to the UN compound inside the safe area. About 800 elderly and infirm Muslim men were rounded up outside the UN compound by Bosnian Serbs and most are missing and presumed dead.
''I was protesting because I was being separated from my family, but the Dutch men just laughed and didn't do anything,'' says Hurem Suljic, one of about 800 men taken away from the main UN base. ''I thought everything was going to be under UN protection and escort.''
Mr. Suljic says all of the mostly elderly men taken by the Serbs died two days later at a mass execution he survived in the nearby town of Karakaj. Other Muslims accuse the Dutch deputy commander in Srebrenica, Maj. Robert Franken, of initially dismissing allegations of killings despite shots ringing out around the compound and eyewitness accounts of bodies being found.
Cries for help
One woman, who acted as a representative for the Muslims gathered around the UN compound, burst into the Dutch base shouting that the Serbs had killed nine of the hundreds of Muslim men they crammed into a small house outside the base for questioning on July 12. The woman later tried to hang herself, according to eyewitnesses.
''I heard [Franken] say we should not talk about that [nonsense],'' says Hasan Nuhanovic, a local UN translator, ''because we can't prove it.''
The bodies were later found by the Dutch, but a videotape they made was destroyed for security reasons and photographs were accidentally destroyed, Dutch officials say.
After the nine bodies had been found, one execution had been witnessed by the Dutch, and about 500 men outside the compound taken away by the Serbs, the Dutch ordered 300 Muslim men in their base to leave on July 13, according to eyewitnesses and statements from UN Military Observers.
Two hundred thirty-nine of the men in the compound agreed to have their names put on a list so the UN could keep track of them. Franken faxed the list to the UN and showed it to Serb officers, telling the Muslim men it was ''all I can do,'' and ''I think the Serbs will think twice before they do something to these people.''
The father of UN translator Nuhanovic kissed Franken as he left the Dutch compound in an attempt to show Serb soldiers outside that he was close to the UN troops.
According to refugees, the Serbs severely beat him after he left the compound. Nuhanovic's father, mother, and a brother who left the compound are all missing.
The Dutch commander, Lt. Col. Ton Karremans, was under orders from his UN command to ''take all reasonable measures to protect refugees and civilians,'' but Colonel Karremans said that was ''not possible'' because his soldiers were outmanned and outgunned by the Serbs.
The Bosnian Serbs, who had already shelled the Dutch compound in Srebrenica town during the fight, threatened to shell the compound in nearby Potocari if the Dutch resisted, according to Dutch officials and Muslim eyewitnesses.
Muslim eyewitnesses, contradicting statements by the Dutch government, say many of the UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica were disarmed by Bosnian Serb soldiers. Dutch officials say the peacekeepers kept their weapons and did all they could.
Bosnian Serb soldiers were allowed in the Dutch compound hospital and ordered seven wounded Muslim soldiers be evacuated separately from the other patients. The seven were never seen again.
Hamdija Fezic, a local leader, says the Dutch could have done more, but cared little about the Muslims. ''They came to Srebrenica to earn money,'' says Mr. Fezic, who escaped through the woods. ''They were not interested in the people in Srebrenica.''
UN translator Nuhanovic says the Dutch should have demanded that the evacuation be supervised by the International Committee of the Red Cross. ''The Dutch knew very well something was going to happen to those men. They sent them to their deaths,'' Nuhanovic says.