How did Dutch troops serving under UNPROFOR failed to protect Srebrenica?
by Daily Sabah
ISTANBULJul 11, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah
Jul 11, 2015 12:00 am
During the dissolution of Yugoslavia, former republics of the union, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, waged a bloody war to determine the new borders. Serbs, as the most populous nation within Yugoslavia and the founding element of the former union, were effective in the military, and starting from 1992, rapidly backed local Serb units with former Yugoslav arms and units to secede from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croats were somehow lucky as they comprised the majority of large contingent areas which had access to the Adriatic Sea and which were bordered by neutral countries, which supplied them with arms and other goods to survive and wage a war. Whereas in landlocked Bosnia-Herzegovina, the most ethnically heterogeneous republic, Bosnian Serbs quickly confiscated the remaining Yugoslav military inventory and forced Bosniaks to retreat to newly formed enclaves as Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde and Bihac, while the remaining population was forced to live in a minimized strip of land located in the center of the country, with severed ties to the rest of the world.
On 16 April 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted the Resolution 819 that declared Srebrenica enclave as a 'safe area', under the protection of the UN peacekeeping units UNPROFOR. The number of safe areas later increased as Sarajevo, Žepa, Goražde, Tuzla and Bihać were included with the UNSC Resolution 824. Bosnian Serb units led by Ratko Mladic, aiming to change the demographic structure of areas which they held for a better bargain in a future peace settlement, committed many atrocities. By 1995, these enclaves were swarming with thousands of Bosniak refugees that fled the atrocities from nearby villages and rural areas. Highly outnumbered and outgunned Bosniak units were using these areas to conduct hit-and-run operations. However, laying down arms was a must to enter the safe areas and most people living in enclaves were unarmed.
In 1995, Serbs decided to eliminate Srebrenica, Žepa and Goražde, located in the east of the country, for absolute control in the region between the Serbian border and Sarajevo, while deploying the troops surrounding these enclaves against West-backed Croatian units which had expanded since 1992. A 400-men strong lightly armed Dutch UN force known as Dutchbat, which was in Srebrenica at the time, was no match for at least 5,000 heavily armed and experienced Serbian troops surrounding the town. However, they made crucial mistakes, which were not calling in NATO airstrikes when threat was apparent, believing promises from Serb commanders that promised safety for Bosniak refugees, not re-arming Bosniak refugees who gave up their arms and laying down their own arms when Serbs took over the town. Thirty Dutch soldiers, now unarmed, were taken captive to prevent NATO airstrikes.
As women, children and elders were earlier evacuated from the enclave; all men of fighting age were rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb units, with a death toll over 8,000.
Although Netherlands was blamed ever since the incident, the country has agreed to pay compensation on several occasions to the victims of families and an official report released in 2002 uncovered the problems with the planning stage, resulting in resignation of the Dutch cabinet. The international community responded to Bosnian Serb atrocities only after the massacres of 1995 through large scale bombing campaign initiated in August. Prior to the campaign and Srebrenica incident, Bosnian Serb units consistantly harrassed, attacked and kidnapped UN forces, without encountering a solid response from the Western powers.
This was not the only case in which UN forces failed to prevent massacres despite their presence. In the aftermath of the dissolution of Soviet Union and Cold War, many clashes occurred throughout the world in the form of civil war, in which civilian casualties were much more higher. The fighting forces had a lower degree of allegiance to a global power or ideology as their choices multiplied with the end of bipolar world. As the role of international community in effectively intervening to such crises was being discussed, an incident marked the fate of millions in the couple of years to come. A small scale U.S. led operation of the UN in Somalian capital of Mogadishu in October 1993 turned into a major skirmish in which 20 UN soldiers and 350 to 500 Somalian militants died. As the UN was no longer a neutral force, the UN operation had to be cancelled and UN forces were evacuated from Somalia, creating a vacuum of force that continues up to this day. The failure in Somali led to inaction of major powers in Rwanda and Bosnia, in which UN troops were left in the field without effective support while major atrocities were being committed.