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Cablegate: Netherlands: Still Struggling with Srebrenica

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTC #2639/01 3531628
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 191628Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7732
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHVJ/AMEMBASSY SARAJEVO PRIORITY 0111
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L THE HAGUE 002639

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/UBI, EUR/SCE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/19/2016
TAGS: PREL PGOV NL
SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS: STILL STRUGGLING WITH SREBRENICA


Classified By: CDA Chat Blakeman, reasons 1...

90154

2006-12-19

06THEHAGUE2639

Embassy The Hague

CONFIDENTIAL

C O N F I D E N T I A L THE HAGUE 002639

SIPDIS
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/UBI, EUR/SCE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/19/2016

TAGS: PREL PGOV NL

SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS: STILL STRUGGLING WITH SREBRENICA

Classified By: CDA Chat Blakeman, reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. (C) Summary: Dutch Defense Minister Henk Kamp presented a
special insignia on December 4 to troops who served in Dutch
Battalion (Dutchbat) III under the UN Protection Force
(UNPROFOR) in Bosnia in 1995. While the insignia is intended
to honor Dutch servicemen who functioned honorably and
conscientiously in difficult circumstances, it has provoked
questions and criticism by a Dutch society still struggling
with their failure to prevent the massacre of Muslims by
Serbian forces at Srebrenica. End summary.

Special Insignia for Srebrenica Service
---------------------------------------

2. (U) On December 4, Dutch DM Kamp presented Dutchbat III
members an insignia as a symbol of recognition for their
service in Srebrenica over ten years ago. Dutchbat troops
under UNPROFOR were responsible in July 1995 for defending
the Bosniak enclave designated by the UN a special enclave.
In Europe's worst civilian massacre since World War II,
Dutch troops stood helplessly as Serbian forces rounded up
and massacred over 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.
Approximately 500 of the 850 Dutchbat servicemen attended the
ceremony to receive the insignia from Kamp.

3. (U) Dutchbat's failure to prevent the massacre has been an
on-going controversy for the Dutch. Critics blame Dutchbat
cowards for doing nothing to prevent the massacre, while
Dutchbat troops claim defense of Srebrenica was impossible
due to an insufficient mandate, inadequate arms, and lack of
UN support. Dutch troops returned home to charges of
incompetence; many sought long-term trauma treatment. The
massacre ultimately led to the collapse of the Dutch
government in April 2002 following a critical report released
by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation. The
report cleared Dutch troops of most blame, noting they were
outnumbered and lightly armed -- and under restricted rules
of engagement -- but assigned partial blame to the Dutch
Government for setting the troops up to fail.

4. (U) In response, the Dutch Government must now meet a
select criteria -- the toetsingskader -- before Parliament
will agree to support a deployment overseas. The most
important requirement involves teaming with a greater power
to avoid any perceived abandonment, as the Dutch believe
happened to them at Srebrenica. In the effort to meet this
criteria, recent Dutch consideration over their deployment to
Afghanistan stalled several times until agreement was reached
to team with Australian forces in Uruzgan province.

5. (U) Kamp stated during the insignia ceremony that Dutchbat
troops functioned honorably and conscientiously in difficult
circumstances, and were wrongfully presented in a negative
light for a long period of time. He noted that Dutch forces
have long been blamed for the failure to protect Srebrenica,
but thorough inquiries have made clear that the Dutch should
not be held accountable for the massacre. Kamp acknowledged
that as a result of Srebrenica, Dutch troops have been viewed
as cowardly or weak. He explained that the Dutch Government
wants to show recognition to the Dutchbatters not only for
the work they did in good faith, but also for the years of
vilification.

Criticism for Special Recognition
---------------------------------

6. (U) The presentation of insignias has resurrected bitter
feelings over Srebrenica. In addition to demonstrations in
Sarajevo and The Hague, and criticism voiced by the Mothers
of Srebrenica Association, Dutch newspapers and human rights
organizations have blasted the insignia presentation.
Critics in the Dutch left-of-center newspaper Volkskrant
noted that the insignia is a slap in the victims' faces and
proves once again that the role of the Dutch military is more
important than the victims' feelings.

7. (U) Commentary in the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad
noted that the insignia is no medal for valor or
distinction. Right-of-center Dutch newspaper NRC
Handelsblad commented that the insignia may soothe the heavy
conscience of the Dutch military, but questions of individual
responsibility, leadership capabilities, and the judgment of
local commanders on the ground will continue to gnaw on the
individual conscience.

8. (U) Tilman Zulch, chairman of the human rights
organization Society for Threatened Peoples (GFBV), argued
that the Dutch Government should not reward the military for
failure, and that the Dutchbatters should have resisted
Serbian forces. Left-of-center Dutch newspaper Trouw
questioned whether the Dutch should be happy with this
gesture -- the answer to this can only be answered by the
real victims of Srebrenica. Trouw also found it striking
that Kamp offered no words of defense in response to
Srebrenica, an omission that renders the insignia distinction
uncomfortable.

Why Now?
--------

9. (C) Some critics have suggested the insignia is designed
to highlight a strong, united Dutch military while detracting
from allegations of Dutch weakness in Afghanistan. In a
conversation with Polmiloff on December 18, MFA Deputy
Director for Conflict Prevention, Peace Operations and Civil
Cooperation Joop Nijssen dismissed these charges, describing
the insignia as unfinished business from the last
Balkenende Government. Nijssen said the GONL wanted to
present the insignia earlier, but feared it might become
politicized during the recent Dutch parliamentary election
campaign. Given the Liberal Party's (VVD) poor showing in
the elections, Nijssen explained, VVD will not be asked to
join any new coalition, and Kamp will step down as defense
minister. As such, Kamp opted to present the insignia prior
to his departure from office; any linkage with allegations of
Dutch weakness in Afghanistan is spurious at best, Nijssen
said.

10. (C) MFA Director of the Western Balkans Division Cees
Rolz separately rejected any direct linkage with Afghanistan.
He noted the insignia is intended to boost the morale of
Dutch veterans, who are held in relatively low regard by
Dutch society. Rolz suggested the only linkage the insignia
might have with Afghanistan would be to show Dutch troops
deployed there that Dutch society does care about its
veterans.

Comment
-------

11. (C) Srebrenica dramatically influenced Dutch military
deployments overseas, including especially requirements to
team with other countries and maintain clear rules of
engagement -- these factors were considered heavily in the
Netherlands' decision to deploy to Afghanistan. Srebrenica
also contributed to an inferiority complex that Dutch
military leadership has long sought to overcome. During his
tenure, Kamp repeatedly called for the Dutch military to move
past their failure at Srebrenica; his first trip as defense
minister was to Bosnia in an effort to bury the ghosts of
the past.

12. (C) While GONL officials reject any linkage to
Afghanistan, critics are quick to note the insignia
presentation followed closely on charges by Canadian military
officers that the Dutch lacked guts regarding the perceived
need to hunt and kill Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Indeed,
while publicly Kamp has called for the Netherlands to move
on, DAO contacts acknowledged that the Dutch military
privately offered Dutchbatters a chance for redemption by
serving in Afghanistan -- a strange offer, given Kamp's
statements that Dutchbat has suffered too long. It is clear
that as the Dutch military struggles to overcome the past and
honor its veterans, emotions within Dutch society are still
raw ten years after its military's failure at Srebrenica.

BLAKEMAN

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