An ex-US general has apologised after saying Dutch UN troops failed to prevent the Srebrenica genocide partly because their ranks included openly gay soldiers, the Dutch defence ministry said Tuesday.
John Sheehan, a retired former NATO commander and senior Marine officer, “wrote a letter of apology,” ministry spokeswoman Anne van Pinxteren told AFP.
In it, Sheehan said he was “sorry” for remarks made at a Senate hearing earlier this month where he argued against plans by President Barack Obama to end a ban on allowing gays to serve openly in the US military.
“The case in point that I’m referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs,” he said at the time, referring to the Dutch UN peacekeeping force deployed to protect Bosnian Muslim civilians.
Sheehan claimed that Dutch leaders, including the former chief of staff of the Dutch army General Henk van den Breemen, had told him that the presence of gay soldiers had contributed to the fall of the enclave which led to the massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
“To be clear, the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers,” states Sheehan’s letter, dated Monday and addressed to the now retired Van den Breemen.
“I am sorry that my recent public recollection of those discussions of 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military,” said the letter, a copy of which was given to AFP by the ministry.
“It is also regrettable that I allowed you to be pulled into a public debate.”
Sheehan’s statements had been described as “disgraceful” by Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and “complete nonsense” by Van den Breemen, while the gay rights group Pink Army threatened to sue the ex-general unless he retracted.
“Pink Army is relieved and happy that the former American general Sheehan regress his allegations,” the organisation said Tuesday.
“Now that he has expressed regret, the need to start legal proceedings has vanished.”