Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Dutch Feared Srebrenica Massacre

A senior Dutch officer tells the Tribunal that fears of a massacre prevented his forces from fighting the advance of Bosnian Serb forces on the enclave in 1995.
By IWPR

A senior Dutch officer took the stand last week during the trial of General Radislav Krstic, charged with genocide following the fall of Srebrenica in 1995.


The evidence from Major Robert Franken, who was deputy commander of the Dutch United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, battalion in Srebrenica at the time, is of particular importance to the prosecution in establishing Krstic's role as a commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the operation.


Franken said women and children would have been massacred if the "blue helmets" had tried to defend their base at Potocari.


"The Bosnian Serbs had already demonstrated that they did not draw any distinction between fighters and civilians," he added.


The witness reminded the court that Serb forces had already shelled Srebrenica and Potocari, despite there being no military targets at either location. Furthermore, Franken said Serb forces had threatened to kill some 50 Dutch soldiers captured at UN observation posts around the enclave.


Franken said they did not believed Serb forces would "line them up against the wall and shoot", but might "use them as a human shield.....as they were already doing that."


The Dutch officer said that as fighting "was not an option", the UN military mission in Srebrenica changed from defending the enclave to protecting the refugees. After the fall of the enclave, the mission changed again, when UN headquarters ordered the 'blue helmets' to assist the Serbs in evacuating the refugees from Potocari.


Franken said he tried to organise escorts for the convoys, but Bosnian Serb forces declined this "help", blocked the Dutch soldiers from escorting the refugees and seized 15 or 16 jeeps, personal weapons and other military equipment.


Captain Ron Rutten, another Dutch officer, tried to record events at Potocari with his camera. Rutten told the court of Dutch efforts to help with the evacuation. On one occasion, Rutten said, he witnessed Dutch soldiers cordon off an area large enough to contain 60 or 70 people. The refugees in this area were then directed towards a waiting bus.


While the Dutch soldiers carried out this operation, "Serbian soldiers were sitting next to the road and smoking." Rutten said it therefore appeared as though the "blue helmets" were organising the evacuation of refugees from Potocari.


Rutten said he never saw the photographs he took that day. Two days after his return to Holland officers from military intelligence took the film to be developed. Rutten said an "error" during the development process resulted in the film being over-exposed and destroyed.


Judge Fouad Riad asked Franken whether what he was describing as an "evacuation" amounted to a "deportation." The Dutch officer agreed with this definition. Riad then said, "So, it was a planned deportation approved by the UN". Franken again agreed.


The judge asked Franken whether the UN disarmed Muslims in the enclave but not the Serb forces around it. Franken confirmed this was the case.


"Thus, they [the Muslims in Srebrenica] were completely disarmed; your mission was not able to protect them; the Serbs were militarily very well prepared and simultaneously - as you have testified - prepared to kill civilians," the judge said.


"That is also correct," Franken replied.


Franken confirmed that he saw General Ratko Mladic in Potocari on July 12 and 13, 1995. He noticed that Mladic mostly appeared in those places where cameras were present, in a kind of "media operation" or "propaganda show."


When asked by the prosecutor, who, in his opinion, commanded the Srebrenica operation, Franken replied that it should be a corps commander, since that was "normal in a military sense."


Krstic was commander of the Drina Corps, which captured Srebrenica. Video footage from SRT, TV Pale, viewed by the court earlier in the trial, showed Krstic in his role as corps commander in Srebrenica. Krstic boasted to the cameras that the operation was being conducted "very successfully" and would continue "to the end."