AMSTERDAM Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende attacked on Friday claims by a retired U.S. general that Dutch forces were overrun in Srebrenica in 1995 because of the presence of gay soldiers.
At a U.S. congressional hearing on Thursday on allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the military, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander John Sheehan said there was a causal link between having homosexuals in the Dutch forces and the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war.
"The remarks were outrageous, wrong and beneath contempt," Balkenende told a news conference.
Bosnian Serb forces overran lightly-armed Dutch soldiers in the United Nations-designated enclave in July 1995 and subsequently massacred more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys, the worst mass killing in Europe since World War Two.
In his remarks which also provoked angry reactions from unions and gay military groups, Sheehan blamed a post-Cold War effort by European nations to "socialize" their armed forces by, among other things, allowing openly gay soldiers to serve.
DUTCH ILL-EQUIPPED FOR WAR
"That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point that I'm referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs," Sheehan said.
"The battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them."
Carl Levin, chairman of the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee, asked: "Did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?"
"Yes, they did. They included that as part of the problem," Sheehan said, according to a webcast on the website of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"That there were gay soldiers?" Levin then asked.
"That the combination was the liberalization of the military, a net effect was basically social engineering."
The Dutch Defense Ministry called Sheehan's claims "absolute nonsense" and added that gay Dutch soldiers routinely cooperate with the U.S. military in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen called the claim "the bizarre private opinion of someone without an official function".
Renee Jones-Bos, the Dutch ambassador to the United States, said in a statement, "I couldn't disagree more" with Sheehan, adding there was no evidence of his claims in the extensive record of research on Srebrenica.
Military unions were equally angry. Dutch news agency ANP quoted the head of the military union AFMP as saying Sheehan's comments were "out of the realm of fiction", while the head of the gay soldiers' group SHK called his comments "the ridiculous convulsion of a loner".
The events in Srebrenica remain a sensitive subject in the Netherlands, where a six-year investigation into the massacre led to the government's fall in 2002.
(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; editing by Jackie Cowhig)