Image: Bosnians, Dutch peacekeeper
A group of Dutch ex-peacekeepers, whose mission was to protect civilians, visited for the first time the site where Serb forces killed up to 8,000 Muslims and met with survivors and relatives of victims.
updated 10/17/2007 3:49:46 PM ET 2007-10-17T19:49:46

Twelve years after the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 men and boys, their widows and mothers met Wednesday with ex-Dutch soldiers who served as peacekeepers in the Muslim enclave during the Bosnian war.

“Shame on you for coming back here,” Sabra Kolenovic, who lost her husband and son in the 1995 massacre, whispered as the soldiers walked into the former factory that served as the Dutch compound during the war.

Questions and accusations accompanied tears as the widows confronted the soldiers about what happened in July 1995.

Bosnian Serbs had overrun the town of Srebrenica, which had been declared a safe haven by the U.N. two years earlier. The outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers did not fire a single shot in defense, and the U.N. did not respond to the Dutch commander’s calls for air support.

Srebrenica’s Muslims fled to the U.N. compound seeking protection, but many were not allowed in. Serb soldiers later separated the men from the women, and executed the males as the Dutch soldiers looked on helplessly.

Today, a cemetery across the street from the Dutch compound holds the graves of 3,000 Srebrenica victims.

“Do you feel guilty for what happened here?” said widow Hajra Catic.

Worst European massacre since WWII
The systematic execution was the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. Earlier this year, survivors sued the Dutch troops for participating in the genocide by failing to try to prevent it.

After reviewing the events later, the Dutch government resigned — but also decorated the soldiers for their experience.

“Did you really receive decorations for what you did here?” yelled Munira Subasic, head of the association Mothers of Srebrenica. “Here, parents are still searching for the bones of their children. Why did you not at least try to save at least one life?”

The soldiers told the widows they did what they could with their lives also under threat and no support from the United Nations. One ex-soldier acknowledged that mistakes were made. He said some of them were not prepared for the task and could not cope with it.

“I have great respect for you. I came here to pay respect and to talk to you,” said Boudewijn Kok, who was in Srebrenica during the massacre.

Monique Bergman, who served back then at the Dutch base, could not help crying during the meeting with the widows.

“I expected anger and questions. I wanted to give them a chance to ask,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Soldiers to visit mass grave
The soldiers and their families also will visit a mass grave where forensic experts still are exhuming the remains of Srebrenica victims.

The remains, identified through DNA analysis, are being reburied at the Potocari memorial center, where a large field is still waiting for another 5,000 bodies to be found and reburied.

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