Dutch government resigns

By GARETH HARDING  |  April 16, 2002
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands, April 16 -- The Dutch government collectively fell on its sword Tuesday following a damning report that blamed it for failing to prevent the killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica seven years ago.

Prime Minister Wim Kok, the European Union's longest-serving leader, handed in his resignation to Queen Beatrix Tuesday afternoon after a stormy crisis meeting earlier in the day. Several Cabinet ministers had threatened to quit the government if Kok did not assume full responsibility for the report's findings.

In a surprise move, the queen asked Kok and his ministers to remain in office until a new government is sworn in after general elections on May 15. They will be unable to propose any new legislation.

Despite years of economic growth and falling unemployment, Kok's center-left government has been trailing right-wing parties in recent polls. Last week's scathing report and the resignation of the entire government will do little to increase its chances of victory.

The report, which was published by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, accused the government and army of sending peacekeepers on a "mission impossible." The 110 troops were meant to protect Srebrenica's largely Muslim population against attack, but in July 1995 Bosnian-Serb forces overwhelmed them. Eight thousand people were slaughtered in the Balkan wars' single worst act of savagery.

Kok told a packed Parliament: "The international community fell short in its promise to offer adequate protection to the people in the so-called safe areas. As a member of that international community, the Dutch government also fell short in this respect."

Rejecting accusations that the Netherlands was directly responsible for the murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslims, the outgoing prime minister said his decision to step down reflected the "shared responsibility of the Netherlands for the creation of a situation in which such an event was able to occur. 'The international community' is anonymous and cannot take responsibility in a visible way vis--vis the victims and survivors of the events in Srebrenica. I can -- and do -- take that responsibility."

Dutch Member of European Parliament Michiel van Hulten welcomed Kok's decision.

"Srebrenica has been dragging on for seven years now and there was a widespread feeling that somebody needed to take political responsibility," the Socialist politician told United Press International.

The Dutch Parliament is due to debate the issue at a special session on Wednesday.

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