- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

THE HAGUE Serbian Gen. Radislav Krstic goes on trial today, accused of organizing the massacre of up to 9,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. But the United Nations and the Dutch peacekeepers it sent to protect the "safe area" will be equally on trial.

Gen. Krstic is said by prosecutors at the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to have separated men from women and children and coordinated their mass deportation from the mountain enclave, clearing the way for the bloodiest atrocity in Europe since World War II.

But years of U.N. reports and recriminations make clear that he and his superior, Gen. Ratko Mladic, could not have accomplished their three-day siege without the capitulation of the peacekeepers and repeated failures throughout the U.N. system.

The trial, which will last months, has generated more interest in the Dutch media than any before it, according to officials with the war crimes tribunal, which is preparing for an overflow crowd today.

"This is a bitter time in Dutch history," said a shopkeeper enjoying an after-work beer near the tribunal's central-Hague compound, who identified himself only as Jos. "We loaned these boys to the United Nations to protect Srebenica, but the United Nations didn't know what to do with them. They didn't have a chance."

He took a sip of Groelsch and added: "I heard someone call this Holland's Vietnam."

"More like our My Lai," said Rozien, a Dutch mother of two. "I don't even think the peacekeepers were innocent. They were certainly betrayed by the U.N., but they were happy to stand by while this all happened. I wonder how much pressure they were really under."

Gen. Krstic is accused by the tribunal of leading the three-day attack on Srebrenica, including the summary execution of thousands of Muslim men and boys, and the displacement and harassment of thousands of women and children.

According to the prosecutors' brief, the Serbian forces "executed thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in an organized and systematic manner and on a wide scale. They did so by participating in opportunistic killings shortly after men had been captured [or] transporting them to various execution sites."

Women and children who have sought shelter at the Dutch military compound in the village of Potocari were "terrorized by members of the VRS [Serbian military]" and then transported by buses outside the enclave.

The Serbian forces buried the men in mass graves in isolated areas. When the international community learned of the executions, the brief claims, the corps dug up the bodies and attempted to rebury them elsewhere.

The incident has been recognized as one of the most humiliating failures in U.N. history. The events surrounding the July 11, 1995, fall of the mountain enclave are the subject of numerous books, internal reports and television documentaries.

The United Nations had initially offered the Muslims a safe haven if they would give up their guns, but went ahead anyway when the Muslims refused to disarm.

About 150 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers were sent to man bright white observation posts in the village, where from the beginning they were outnumbered and underarmed.

When the Serbian military forces finally breached the perimeter of the safe area, the blue-helmeted peacekeepers stood aside as they separated out the women and children and began killing the men.

At least 2,000 corpses of Srebrenica victims have been exhumed from mass graves in Bosnia by tribunal experts. More than 7,000 others are still missing, according to figures given by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"Many Dutch are deeply ashamed about what has happened," said Frits Kalshoven, a retired professor of international law at Leiden University.

"The peacekeepers could have fought, and would have been killed to the last man, and they would be heroes. Now they are not heroes; they are classified as cowards."

Most of the accounts written by journalists, human rights experts and the United Nations itself find plenty of blame to spread around.

The badly divided Security Council could not agree to send more troops into the region, but continued to extend the mission of the already stretched Dutch battalion. Concerned governments could not coordinate military assistance, let alone aid. Serbian militias had choked off supply routes.

And, perhaps most damaging of all, communications within the Dutch command, and between NATO and the United Nations, appeared hopelessly garbled. Information and pleas for assistance were repeatedly lost, misinterpreted or tragically delayed.

Gen. Krstic, the highest-ranking Serb to face the tribunal, has pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

In their pretrial brief to the prosecutor, his lawyers did not deny the killing or forced displacement.

Rather, they say the violence was justified because the peacekeepers had failed to disarm the Muslim fighters, who were killing Serbs and distracting them from fighting on other fronts.

His lawyers also dispute that he had command control over the troops, and say he cannot he held personally liable for every death.

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