Dutch reject retired U.S. general's claim that having gay soldiers led to Srebrenica massacre

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A retired U.S. general's claim that gay Dutch soldiers were partly to blame for allowing Europe's worst massacre since World War II has sparked outrage in the Netherlands. (March 19)

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By Henry Chu
Saturday, March 20, 2010

LONDON -- Top Dutch officials ditched their usual diplomacy Friday in an angry reaction to suggestions by a retired U.S. Marine Corps general that allowing openly gay troops to serve in their military was partly to blame for Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

The statement was made by John J. Sheehan before a Senate hearing Thursday on the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay men and lesbians in its ranks. Sheehan opposes President Obama's pledge to end the policy and tried to use the Dutch case as a cautionary tale.

But he triggered outrage on both sides of the Atlantic for his suggestion that incorporating openly gay troops had affected the Dutch army's battle readiness and facilitated the mass killing of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys by Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995.

Dutch troops were part of the inadequate U.N. peacekeeping force stationed in Srebrenica.

Sheehan said at the hearing that the Netherlands' decision to "socialize" its military "led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war."

He added: "The case in point that I'm referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was understrength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them."

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asked, "Did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?"

"They included that as part of the problem," Sheehan said.

On Friday, Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop called Sheehan's comments "scandalous, and unworthy of a soldier." Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said, "Toward Dutch troops, homosexual or heterosexual, it is way off the mark to talk like that about people and the work they do under very difficult circumstances."

He said he did not intend to bring up the matter with Obama, however, because Sheehan, a former NATO commander, is retired.

Sheehan said Gen. Henk van den Breemen, former Dutch defense chief of staff, had suggested to him that allowing gays to serve openly in the Netherlands' military had undermined its readiness.

But the Dutch Defense Ministry said that van den Breemen had never expressed such sentiments and that he considered them "absolute nonsense."

-- Los Angeles Times


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