Dutch prosecutors to probe Srebrenica killings

* Dutch military commanders could face criminal charges

* Surviving relatives of victims requested investigation

(Adds comments, details, background)

AMSTERDAM, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The Dutch prosecutor's office said on Friday it would look into whether Dutch peacekeeping soldiers should face criminal charges over the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

About 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed at Srebrenica after Bosnian Serb forces overran the United Nations-protected enclave where Dutch troops were stationed to protect civilians.

The massacre eventually led to the fall of a Dutch government in 2002 after a damning report by the Dutch Institute for War Documentation into the events surroundings the killings.

The Netherlands has always said, however, that its troops were abandoned by the United Nations, which provided them no air support in the U.N.-designated "safe area".

In a statement, the public prosecutor's office said victims' relatives last month requested an investigation into the massacre, adding a probe would take several months to complete.

It said it would decide whether to hold a full-fledged criminal investigation after completing initial inquiries.

Dutch lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said in a statement on behalf of victims' relatives she had requested an investigation into the actions of three Dutch military commanders, including Thom Karremans, commander of the Dutch troops, and his deputy.


"The Dutch troops handed over their (Bosnian Muslim) family members on 13 July 1995 to the Bosnian Serb enemy, who later killed them," Zegveld said, adding the victims had fled to the Dutch U.N. base to seek protection from Serb forces.

She said the three officers knew the transfer of the victims to the Bosnian Serbs would lead to their deaths and that "this can be qualified as genocide and/or war crimes and/or murder."

Alexander Knoops, a professor of international criminal law at Utrecht University, said it is not certain whether the prosecutor would initiate a criminal investigation.

"The legal criteria for allegedly aiding and abetting genocide seem not fulfilled here. The mere fact that civilians were handed over to the Bosnian Serbs is not sufficient for criminal liability," he said.

Zegveld is representing the relatives of an electrician who assisted the Dutch, and the troops' interpreter, whose father and brother are believed to have been killed at Srebrenica.

In a case brought by Bosnia, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in 2007 the massacre at Srebrenica constituted genocide as the former Yugoslavia was torn apart in the 1990s by rival Serb, Croat and Bosnian Muslim forces.

Lawyers representing 6,000 surviving relatives of the Srebrenica victims have mounted several legal challenges in Dutch courts against the Dutch state and the United Nations for failing to prevent the Srebrenica killings.

In March, a Dutch civil court rejected a challenge to U.N. immunity, dealing a blow to efforts to hold the world body accountable for the massacre in the 1992-95 Bosnian war. (Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; Editing by Mark Heinrich)