The Netherlands apologizes to its blue helmets for a “mission that became impossible” in Srebrenica | International

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The Dutch government has apologized this Saturday to the soldiers sent in 1995 to the Bosnian town of Srebrenica on a “mission that became impossible”, and also for “the lack of subsequent support”, in the words of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It is the first time that the Executive recognizes what happened with the blue helmets of the Dutchbat III battalion, in charge of protecting the Bosnian Muslim refugees surrounded by the Serbian troops of then General Ratko Mladic. Nearly 850 Dutch veterans have been singled out for 27 years for failing to defend the 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men who were victims of the Srebrenica genocide. The largest massacre committed on European soil since the Second World War.

The official rehabilitation has taken place during a ceremony with military honors held in a barracks located in the east of the country. Mark Rutte has admitted that the memory of what happened in 1995 is still as vivid as the first day. “The peacekeeping mandate was from the United Nations, but the Dutch state has its responsibility [en 2002, el Gobierno presentó su dimisión siete años después de los hechos]. Everything and everyone left you alone, and you received criticism for not having been able to fulfill the task entrusted to you: protect civilians and defend democracy. ”, He has said. For her part, the Defense Minister, Kasja Ollongren, has acknowledged that when her soldiers asked for help, it did not come, “and you were facing the Serbian Army together with thousands of refugees under your care.” She has added this: “Upon return, there was also no adequate support from Defense. Today we recognize your pain and we do so without forgetting the victims of the genocide, perpetrated at the orders of Mladic”. Veterans have received the Defense Medal of Honor, in bronze, which recognizes special contribution.

The average age of the blue helmets stationed in Srebrenica was 18 and 19 years old, and Freerk Meuken, one of them, attended the event this Saturday. In a telephone conversation, he says that the excuses have seemed sincere “and can mark the beginning of the recovery of trust with Defense, and also with the families of the victims, in Srebrenica”. According to him, “during the first ten or fifteen years, dialogue between them and the survivors was impossible. There was too much pain and mutual reproaches, but the politicians are to blame and that is something we have in common”, he affirms.

“alone”

50 years old today, a graduate in teaching and nursing, Meuken was in charge of medical transport between Srebrenica and Potocari, the neighboring town that housed the Ducthbat III headquarters. “I turned 24 there and I was one of the oldest. You can train a military man, but what we faced was a humanitarian crisis that turned into a tragedy, and we were left alone. When the Serbian troops entered with all their arsenal, we were about 330 peacekeepers with few weapons”, he explains. Like the rest of his colleagues, his memories of the first half of July 1995, when the genocide was committed, remain intact. According to him, the first day, when the Serbian commanders ordered to separate the men from the women, children and the elderly, they did not imagine what was coming.

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“They told us that they would take them to Tuzla [situada a unos 100 kilómetros de Srebrenica] and they would be fine there. When colleagues at the checkpoints saw dead bodies, we insisted on driving the buses carrying the refugees ourselves, but the Serb soldiers stopped us at gunpoint.” Here, he repeats a well-known phrase in his battalion. He goes like this: “This is like The list of Schindler, but in technicolor”. It refers to the film of the same title by American director Steven Spielberg, centered on World War II and the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. Meuken admits that even today they wonder what the truth of what happened is. “Why did the reinforcements repeatedly requested by our commanders not arrive? Why the UN said there would be bombings, then cancelled”.

In 2021, an investigation carried out by the Dutch National Center for Psychic Trauma confirmed the post-traumatic stress problems carried by the majority of Dutchbat III veterans. Between 60% and 70% suffered from it, when the usual figure after a military mission is around 5%. Defense then decided to compensate them with 5,000 euros and promised to have a special gesture for them.

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