Ratko Mladic’s impending extradition to face the International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia was met with relief and anguish in the country that will host his trial.
Dutch troops under a UN flag failed to protect Muslims in Srebrenica from Mr Mladic’s forces in 1995, and Dutch public opinion remains scarred by the massacre that ensued.
Mark Rutte, prime minister, called the arrest on Thursday “an extraordinary day for the Netherlands” and “a victory for international justice”.
But Wim Kok, prime minister at the time of the massacre, said the arrest would not allow the country to put Srebrenica behind it.
“This book is never going to be closed, because the tragedy was so terrible for so many people,” he said.
Mr Kok resigned in 2002 after a detailed report on the massacre by the Dutch Institute of War Documentation assigned partial responsibility to the Dutch troops.
The repercussions of the surrender of the so-called “Dutchbat” troops and the massacre of 8,000 Muslims that followed continue to this day. The country, whose political identity has been deeply marked by the Holocaust, was horrified by the failure of Dutch troops to prevent the worst case of genocide in Europe since the second world war.
The Dutch troops at Srebrenica had no heavy weapons and relied for air support on other Nato countries, who declined to approve air strikes until after the crucial struggle for the town was over. Videos taken after the surrender show the Dutch commander, Thom Karremans, nervously accepting drinks and gifts offered by Mr Mladic.
The disaster caused the Netherlands to change its approach to international peacekeeping missions, according to Marcel de Haas, an assistant professor at the Royal Belgium Military Academy. Dutch military missions are now more heavily armed, have a wider brief to use lethal force, and deploy with their own air support. However, such missions must be approved by parliament.
This has led to political conflict over missions in Afghanistan and Libya. The last Dutch elections in 2010 were called after the Labour party withdrew its support for the country’s peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
In Libya, parliament has limited the Dutch air force’s mission to enforcing the no-fly zone over the country, rather than bombardments.
The Netherlands has also become a venue for civil society groups concerned with the massacre. The Mothers of Srebrenica, a Dutch-registered group of several dozen mothers of victims, called the arrest a “great relief”. Axel Hagedorn, its lawyer, said they were “happy that after so many years, they will get to see him in court in The Hague”. But Mr Hagedorn said the group would not drop a lawsuit against the UN, alleging it shares responsibility for the massacre. Dutch courts have so far upheld the UN’s claim to immunity from suits.
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