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Dutch Coalition Quits After Report on Bosnia Debacle

Europe: Premier takes political responsibility for peacekeepers' inability to prevent the Srebrenica massacre.

April 17, 2002|From Times Wire Services

THE HAGUE — The Dutch parliament will attempt to put together a caretaker government today after shame over a disastrous 1995 peacekeeping mission in the Balkans sank the ruling coalition a month before a general election.

Prime Minister Wim Kok and his three-party coalition resigned Tuesday, days after a damning official Dutch report said the politicians and military brass should share some of the blame for failing to prevent Europe's worst civilian slaughter since World War II: the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

With elections set for May 15, the resignation had little practical effect. Kok, who was prime minister in July 1995 during the events in Srebrenica, had said last year that he would not seek another term.

Last week's report by the respected Netherlands Institute for War Documentation confirmed that Dutch peacekeepers did little to prevent Serbian forces from rounding up Muslims who had sought refuge in an area of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared "safe" by the United Nations. More than 7,000 Muslims were killed.

The institute concluded that political leaders had carried out an "ill-conceived plan" intended to boost Dutch international prestige. Unprepared troops were sent into a conflict to carry out a "mission impossible" and defend about 30,000 refugees from Bosnian Serb forces in the surrounding hills.

The report said the 110 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers became unwitting collaborators in "ethnic cleansing" when the Serbian forces overran the enclave.

Kok told parliament that the time was overdue for a political price to be paid.

"The international community is anonymous and cannot take responsibility in the name of the victims and survivors of Srebrenica. I can and I do," he said. "I decided to offer my resignation, and the entire Cabinet followed."

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