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Netherlands offers payment of 'appreciation' to Srebrenica veterans

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The logo of the Dutchbat III unit seen is pictured outside a courthouse in Arnhem
The logo of the Dutchbat III unit seen is pictured outside a courthouse in Arnhem   -   Copyright  VINCENT JANNINK / ANP / AFP
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The Dutch government has offered to pay veterans of a United Nations peacekeeping mission that failed to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995.

The Netherlands said each member of the Dutchbat III peacekeeping force would receive a one-off payment of €5,000 as a "gesture and token of appreciation" for their service.

Around 850 troops were stationed in Srebrenica when it was overrun by heavily armed Bosnian Serb fighters led by General Ratko Mladic.

A UN tribunal has convicted Mladic of genocide for his role in the killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. He is appealing the conviction.

The payment announced by the Dutch defence minister is one element of a government reaction to a study into the experiences of the Dutchbat during the 1992-95 Bosnia War.

The study recommended the government makes a "collective gesture" to address "the perceived lack of recognition and appreciation, given the exceptional circumstances in which the near-impossible has been asked" of the troops.

"Many veterans still experience problems after 25 years as a result of their deployment to Srebrenica," the ministry said in a statement, noting that the troops received "a lot of criticism and negative media attention".

"The money is therefore also intended for the lack of support, recognition, and appreciation they experienced."

Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten hopes that payments can be "as soon as possible" and added that the government will organise return trips to Srebrenica for small groups of veterans from 2022.

The director of the Srebrenica Memorial Centre said he will study the Dutch minister's explanation before commenting.

The Netherlands has long wrestled with the legacy of the massacre at Srebrenica. In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the country was partially liable for the deaths of some 350 Muslim men murdered by Bosnian Serb forces.

Peacekeeping forces were found to have evacuated the men from their military base on July 13, 1995, despite knowing that they "were in serious jeopardy of being abused and murdered" by Bosnian Serb forces.

The government of former Prime Minister Wim Kok resigned in 2002 after a report harshly criticised Dutch authorities for sending soldiers into a danger zone without a proper mandate or the weapons needed to protect about 30,000 refugees who had fled to the Dutch base in eastern Bosnia.

The UN has also been condemned for failing to authorise NATO airstrikes to support the lightly-armed Dutch troops in July 1995 as they came under attack.

"For some of the Dutchbat III veterans, and indirectly the home front, the personal and social consequences of the deployment persist," Bijleveld-Schouten wrote in a letter to parliament.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte made the same point in a video message last year marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre.

Rutte highlighted the suffering of Bosnian Muslims who lost loved ones, but also mentioned "the men and women of the Dutch UN battalion who felt powerless in July 1995 and who are still haunted by those memories."

But in 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held the Netherlands responsible for Srebrenica, Europe’s worst mass killing since World War II.

In an interview on Turkish television, Erdoğan said that Dutch authorities must atone for its actions and has threatened to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

At the time, PM Rutte hit back Rutte has hit back, accusing the Turkish President of being "hysterical" and saying the Netherlands would never "sink to that level". The dispute has escalated tensions between the two countries in recent years.

This week Dutch MPs urged the government to officially recognise the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as "genocide".

Turkish authorities have denied that the events of over a hundred years ago constitute a genocide.