Court says Dutch not to blame for Srebrenica deaths

THE HAGUE Wed Sep 10, 2008 9:24am EDT

A grieving Bosnian Muslim woman from Srebrenica covers her face after returning to the site of a massacre in the former U.N. ''safe haven'' of Srebrenica, July 11, 2000. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

A grieving Bosnian Muslim woman from Srebrenica covers her face after returning to the site of a massacre in the former U.N. ''safe haven'' of Srebrenica, July 11, 2000.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Dutch court on Wednesday threw out claims from survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre that Dutch U.N. troops guarding the Bosnian town allowed Bosnian Serb forces to murder their relatives.

The case was brought by Hasan Nuhanovic and another family who lost relatives during the massacre in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed. They accuse the Dutch state of negligence over its troops' role in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

The Dutch state said in its defence that the actions of its soldiers should not be attributed to the Netherlands but rather to the United Nations.

The court agreed with this view and said in its ruling the behavior of the Dutch troops should be assessed in the context of the U.N. operation they formed part of.

Nuhanovic, a U.N. interpreter who launched his case in 2002, said his father, mother and younger brother were killed after they were expelled from the town's Dutch military base. He says he was allowed to stay because he had a U.N. identity card.

Lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, representing Nuhanovic and the family of Rizo Mustafic, an electrician in the U.N. force's Dutch battalion who also died in the massacre, said they would appeal against the ruling although she expected their chances to be small.

"This case is too political," she said.

Srebrenica was a U.N. safe haven guarded by a Dutch army unit serving as part of a United Nations force but Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic overran it on July 11, 1995.

The Netherlands has said its troops were abandoned by the U.N., which gave them no air support. The families' lawyers have said public documents show a network of Dutch military officials within the U.N. blocked air support because they feared their soldiers could be hit by "friendly fire".

The Dutch government led by Wim Kok resigned in 2002 after a report on the massacre blamed politicians for sending the Dutch U.N. troops on an impossible mission.

Mladic, indicted for genocide over Srebrenica by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, is still at large but former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was captured in Belgrade in July and is now awaiting trial.

In a separate suit against the Dutch state and the United Nations filed by about 6,000 relatives of the Srebrenica victims, a Dutch court ruled the U.N. was immune to legal claims.

(Reporting by Harro ten Wolde; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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