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Monday, September 28, 1998 Published at 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK


World: Europe

UN troops cleared of Bosnia cover-up

The troops were alleged to have aided Bosnian Serbs

An inquiry has cleared the Dutch defence ministry of allegations that it destroyed evidence allegedly showing Dutch troops assisting in ethnic cleansing operations during the Bosnian war.

However, the report by a former minister, Jos van Kemenade, criticised the "amateurism" of the ministry's response to reports about the behaviour of its troops who were acting as United Nations peacekeepers.

The Defence Minister, Frank De Grave, announced the inquiry in August following repeated allegations about the period after Bosnian Serbs captured the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Massacre

The area had been designated a "safe haven" by the UN in a failed attempt to provide refugees with a sanctuary from the Bosnian civil war.


[ image: Thousands of bodies have been found in unmarked graves near Srebrenica]
Thousands of bodies have been found in unmarked graves near Srebrenica
However, Dutch television and newspapers claimed that Dutch military authorities destroyed photos and video footage allegedly showing their troops help Bosnian Serbs separate Muslim men from women and children after the fall of Srebrenica.

Human rights groups believe that Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic then marched away and killed more than 7,000 captured Muslim men in the single worst atrocity of the Bosnian war.

In August, the UN War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague released a 1995 report absolving Dutch troops of any complicity in war crimes in Bosnia.

Mistakes and carelessness

Mr van Kemenade's report said there was no evidence that Dutch offcials had destroyed allegedly incriminating photos and video footage.

"There is no question of a cover-up," he said.

The inquiry found that the ministry had tried to provide accurate information, but that time pressures had led to mistakes and carelessness.


[ image: Ratko Mladic: Led Bosnian Serb forces]
Ratko Mladic: Led Bosnian Serb forces
Lines of communication between senior defence ministry officials and the army were poor, the report said.

It concluded that the then Defence Minister, Joris Voorhoeve, failed to obtain a copy of a dossier containing highly critical statements by members of the Dutch UN battalion until 1997.

Assessing claims that defence ministry officials had deliberately bungled the development of allegedly incriminating photographs taken in Srebrenica by a Dutch soldier, the report said the incident appeared to be a genuine mistake.

But it added that it was highly surprising that the laboratory technician involved had not known how important the material was.

The inquiry is one in a series of probes into the circumstances surrounding the fall of Srebrenica.

Another investigation is examining allegations that retreating Dutch troops deliberately drove their tanks into a crowd of Bosnian Muslims near the village of Jaglici, killing between 20 and 30 people.



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