'Dutch sent family to their deaths' at Srebrenica, court told

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The Dutch state is responsible for sending a Bosnian Muslim family to their deaths after they were expelled from a UN compound at Srebrenica in 1995, a relative told the Netherlands' highest court on Friday.

Hasan Nuhanovic, who worked as an interpreter for Dutch UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia at the time, told a Supreme Court hearing how he was ordered to tell his father, mother and brother to leave a UN base, sending them to certain death at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces.

"The Dutch... expelled my family and handed them to the Serbs, who killed them," he told judges, who now have to deliberate whether the Netherlands can be held liable for the deaths of Nuhanovic's father Ibro and his brother Muhamed as well as that of another worker on the base, electrician Rizo Mustafic.

Nuhanovic's mother, Nasiha, was also killed, though her death is not part of the current case.

"My family was all inside the base. We thought it was the only safe place in a 100-kilometre (60-mile) radius," Nuhanovic said.

The three men whose deaths are at the centre of the hearings were among almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered by troops commanded by Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, who brushed aside lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers and overran the supposedly safe enclave in July 1995, during Bosnia's brutal three-year civil war.

Friday's hearing in The Hague is the culmination of a case spanning a decade, lodged in 2003 by Nuhanovic and Mustafic's relatives, who claim the three men -- who all worked on the Dutch battalion (Dutchbat) base -- could have been saved in what became Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

A final Supreme Court judgement is expected in September at the earliest, spokeswoman Mireille Beentjes told AFP.

Alma Mustafic, Rizo Mustafic's daughter, broke down in tears as she told judges how her family was escorted out of the compound at the last moment after her father's name was removed from a Dutch list of people who were allowed to stay.

Until then, she said, "we felt safe within the compound. We didn't know what was happening outside its gates, but we feared the worst."

Mustafic, now 31, but who lived through Srebrenica as a 14-year-old, spoke about the close relationship her father had with the Dutchbat soldiers stationed at Potocari.

"They regularly visited us at home. They even once celebrated Christmas at our house, despite the fact that we had almost nothing to eat and that we don't celebrate Christmas," she said.

But their short-lived relief turned into terror as they realised they were being escorted out of the base by armed Dutchbat soldiers, she added.

"I cannot described the fear I felt as we walked out," she said.

A Dutch appeal court in 2011 found the Dutch state responsible for the trio's deaths, the first time it was held accountable for the Dutch UN battalion's actions -- opening the door for possible compensation.

But the Dutch state said last year it would appeal the decision, stressing it believed the UN controlled Dutchbat soldiers in Bosnia.

Lawyer for the Dutch state Bert-Jan Houtzagers stressed on Friday: "It was a peacekeeping operation under command and control of the UN.

"We believe that the (Dutch) state handed over this control to the UN and because of the transfer, the Dutch state could not give Dutchbat operational commands," he said.

"The behaviour of Dutchbat troops can exclusively be laid at the UN's door.

"The real guilty party here are the men and young boys of the Bosnian Serb army. But those who were guilty of atrocities were brought over to face the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia" (ICTY) to face war crimes charges, Houtzagers added.

Mladic, dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia", and former Bosnian Serb political chief Radovan Karadzic are currently facing charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity before the ICTY in The Hague.

Widows of victims at Srebrenica filed a lawsuit in October last year against the UN and the Dutch state before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), accusing them of negligence by failing to protect victims.

The Mothers of Srebrenica took their case to the ECHR after attempts in the Netherlands failed.

© 2013 AFP

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