Dutch government resigns over report on Serb massacre

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The Dutch government collapsed Tuesday under pressure of a report that blamed political leaders in part for failing to prevent the Serb massacre of Muslims during the 1995 fall of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

The resignation was announced by Prime Minister Wim Kok, who also headed the government in 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces stormed past outgunned Dutch peacekeepers and overran the U.N.-declared "safe zone," killing some 7,500 Muslims.

"We are going to visit the Queen. I will offer her the resignation of the ministers and junior ministers," Kok said after a special Cabinet session to discuss the damaging report, released last week.

The government-commissioned report, which took nearly six years to research, harshly criticized the government for sending Dutch soldiers into a danger zone without a proper mandate or the weapons needed to defend about 30,000 refugees who had fled to the Dutch base seeking protection.

The Dutch military was in charge of peacekeeping operations in the region when Serb forces attacked Srebrenica, driving out or killing its Muslim residents, in a week of bloodshed at the end of 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

'Unavoidable' decision

After the report's release Wednesday by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, Kok said the government would accept responsibility for its failure to protect the enclave.

"This decision by this cabinet was unavoidable," Defense Minister Frank de Grave said.

Ad Melkert, Kok's designated successor of the Labor Party and candidate for prime minister, said he could "imagine that this report weighed so heavily on the Cabinet and the ministers that they had to accept the consequences."

At the time of the massacre, Dutch troops came under a storm of criticism for surrendering the Muslim refugees to the Serbs without resistance.

The new report divides that blame among the commanders, the Dutch government and the United Nations, which asked them to defend a "safe zone" without defining what that meant. One of the most serious accusations was that the army withheld information about the massacres from then-Defense Minister Joris Voorhoeve in an effort to protect its reputation.

Many survivors from Srebrenica have long contended the Dutch government should resign over the massacre. Some also denounced last week's report for saying it failed to find any evidence that Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslavia's president at the time, ordered the killings in the city.

"They should have resigned ages ago," Sabaheta Fejzic, a 50-year-old Muslim mother whose son was taken and never seen again, said Tuesday from Bosnia. "They will never wash the guilt off their faces."

The spokesman for the Bosnian Foreign Ministry, Amer Kapetanovic, said he hopes the government's actions would lead to more investigations into the role of outside forces during the war.

Kok's Cabinet will continue to function as an interim government until a new government replaces it, but without power to initiate legislation. Elections are already scheduled for May 15.

It was the second time the three-party coalition government resigned in the nearly eight years it held power.

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