Dutch Government Collapses Over Srebrenica Massacre

THE HAGUE - The Dutch government collapsed on Tuesday after Prime Minister Wim Kok's cabinet resigned en-masse over a report condemning the Netherlands' failure to prevent the worst massacre of the Bosnian war.

Kok's coalition stepped down after a crisis meeting to discuss the fallout from an official report last week which blamed politicians and military top brass for the failure of its UN peacekeepers to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

In Srebrenica, a Bosnian town close to the Serbian border, 110 lightly-armed Dutch troops from the multinational UN force were assigned to protect Muslim residents and refugees in what had been designated a "safe area" for them. In the event the Serbs took the town without a shot being fired.

The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) report, commissioned by the government five years ago, condemned the Dutch troops for unwittingly assisting in "ethnic cleansing" by helping the Serbs organize the final exodus of thousands of Muslims from the town - women and children to Muslim territory but men to their deaths, mostly by shooting in fields and barns.

But it reserved its harshest criticism for the political and military leadership for sending the troops to Srebrenica with ill-defined goals and a weak mandate.

"I will go to the Queen and hand over the resignation of all ministers and junior ministers," Kok told journalists.

He said he would announce the government's dissolution to head of state Queen Beatrix before going to parliament to say his 29-member coalition was resigning over the embarrassing foreign policy crisis.

The chaotic end to Kok's three-party coalition cast a long shadow over the career of a popular prime minister, credited with slashing unemployment and creating prosperity, less than a month before the country goes to the polls on May 15.

The government was sent reeling last week by the long awaited NIOD report, which caused a heated political debate about Dutch accountability at Srebrenica, prompting speculation from senior political sources that a number of top ministers were ready to resign to appease public disquiet.

Queen Beatrix is expected to oversee the formation of a caretaker government until a new government is formed in the wake of the May general elections.