Part III
The fall of Srebrenica

Chapter 9
The departure of Dutchbat from Srebrenica

6. The arrangements for the withdrawal and the route

Early in the evening of 13 July Karremans had received guidelines from Sarajevo for the negotiations with Mladic on a Dutchbat withdrawal. All the Displaced Persons, apart from the wounded, had already left the enclave. The guidelines were drawn up by Colonel De Ruiter. There were two versions: one in Dutch and one in English. Both faxes had the same number, and the same date and time. The existence of the Dutch fax prompted journalist Frank Westerman to infer later that this was a piece of private communication between The Hague and Sarajevo. This will be further addressed at the end of this chapter.

The orders from Sarajevo were that Dutchbat was to leave the enclave with all its combat vehicles, weapons and communication equipment. The blue helmets, berets and shrapnel-proof vests had priority, but the other UN equipment and infrastructure and the personal equipment could be relinquished. Dutchbat had to take along the local UN personnel, and take particular care for the British military personnel. Karremans also heard that Nicolai had been appointed authorized negotiator on behalf of both UNPROFOR and the Dutch Government. If the negotiations with Mladic reached a deadlock, then Karremans was to inform Nicolai immediately.[1] The instructions also included suggestions for the withdrawal route.

As soon as he received the UNPROFOR guidelines Karremans informed Mladic in writing of his instructions. He also passed on the routes stipulated by Sarajevo. Karremans stretched the UNPROFOR instructions slightly by saying that he had to take along the personnel of Médecins Sans Frontičres in addition to the local UN staff and all the wheeled vehicles, computers, personal possessions and clothing.[2] Mladic answered the following day that he would study Karremans’ letter and arrange things with him in situ. He asked Karremans to be patient.[3]

Sarajevo favoured the route via Kladanj to Busovaca, where the Dutch-Belgian transport battalion was stationed. The route via Zvornik to Zagreb was the second choice because of the limited reception facilities in Zagreb.[4] Karremans could not agree with the first priority because, in his opinion, the route via Kladanj was not the more logical of the two options. In his book he does not mince words on this choice: ‘Who on earth thought that one up? (…) How can they even consider it? Don’t they keep up to date with the messages and maps at the higher level? Kladanj is closed, isn’t it?’ Karremans saw only one realistic option: to head for Zagreb via Zvornik, or else for Belgrade.[5]

Karremans had a point. The route via Kladanj was not in use, and it was impossible for road traffic to pass the confrontation line there. Convoys of Displaced Persons and a convoy of wounded had left for Kladanj in vain. In any case, fighting was still going on along this route. The Bosnian Serbs also refused to allow the International Red Cross to use this route for the transportation of the wounded from Potocari on 17 July. In his book Karremans also refers to a discussion he had with Couzy on 13 July in which he asked for further guidelines – which he never received. In a conversation with Colonel Dedden, Chief of the Army Crisis Staff, Karremans learned the following day that attention was being paid to a departure via Zagreb as well as via Busovaca; a departure via Belgrade was not feasible. The Dutch-Belgian transport battalion was ready for the reception; the idea was to stay there for two days.[6]

According to Brantz in Tuzla, the arrangements for the Dutchbat withdrawal were also causing considerable irritation and frustration between The Hague, Potocari, Tuzla and the Dutch officers in the UN chain of command. Potocari and Tuzla were not asked for their opinion: The Hague and Sarajevo had jointly decided that the route via Kladanj to Busovaca was preferable to Zvornik-Belgrade-Zagreb. Brantz said that the contingent Commander of the Dutch troops in Bosnia, Colonel Verschraegen, had advised The Hague along the same lines. This way they could make use of the reception and care facilities in Busovaca.

Like Karremans, Brantz was surprised by the choice of route, given previous experience and the recurrent skirmishes. Additionally, it meant crossing more territory of Republika Srpska than a route that went via Zvornik. Brantz also took up contact with the Defence Crisis Management Centre and the Army Crisis Staff: ‘Had they lost their minds, I asked, barely able to conceal my irritation.’ Dutchbat had to leave the territory of Republika Srpska as soon as possible and this meant, according to Brantz, that it should take the route via Zvornik. What is more, a service support area needed to be set up as close as possible to Potocari in order to provide Dutchbat with help, to transfer vehicles and materiel, to get the personnel onto buses, and to mount the APCs on trailers.[7]

Karremans and Nicolai heard from the Army Crisis Staff that the higher echelons in the UN were sticking to the plan for a departure to Busovaca. According to Karremans, he asked the contingent Commander Verschraegen, the Army Crisis Staff and the Bosnia-Hercegovina Command in Sarajevo three times to relocate Dutchbat to Zagreb and not to Busovaca. He could not understand why no-one listened to him. Eventually, he sought contact with Brantz who told him that the decision to go to Busovaca was taken mainly on the basis of personnel considerations.[8]

According to Van Baal, Deputy Commander of the Army, the main advantage of Busovaca was that the Dutch would then be in control; in these more remote surroundings the Ministry of Defence would be in a better position to shield Dutchbat from curious outsiders than in Zagreb. Actually, to Dutchbat one of the attractions of Zagreb was its airport, which would expedite the journey home. Van Baal, in particular, had pushed for Busovaca, and for the organization of a short debriefing there in relative peace and quiet. The chaotic arrival of the 55 previous Dutchbat hostages at Soesterberg airport had strengthened his convictions.[9]

On 18 July, the logistics staff at UN headquarters in Zagreb was still to express a preference for a departure to central Bosnia. Contrary to the situation in the Netherlands, this was based on economic rather than personnel considerations: central Bosnia was the simplest and cheapest option, especially if the Dutchbat equipment was to be made ready for a new deployment in Bosnia. A second option was a withdrawal via Ljubovija (situated opposite Bratunac on the Serb side of the Drina) to Camp Pleso near Zagreb. The vehicles could be brought from Serbia to Zagreb by road or rail, but this would take more time to plan. A timescale of fourteen days was even quoted.[10] For a long time Zagreb stuck to a withdrawal of the personnel to Busovaca and the materiel to Zenica. This may have been partly motivated by the thought that the equipment would have to be left behind in the event of a withdrawal via Serbia.

On 20 July the buses and helicopters had already been requested to take Dutchbat from Busovaca to Split, where it could be flown back to the Netherlands. It was certain at that time that there would be no opportunity for a debriefing in Split. If this was still to take place in the mission region then it would have to be in Zagreb.[11]

The Commander of Sector North East, Brigadier General Haukland, was not involved in the arrangements for the Dutchbat departure. He had not even been informed of it. Be that as it may, Haukland was acquainted with the instructions that Dutchbat had received. He said to Minister Pronk, who was on a working visit to Tuzla, that Sarajevo’s instruction to Karremans that he must not leave before all the enclave residents were able to depart was not particularly clear. Haukland complained that orders were no longer going through Sector North East and that no-one had told him that Dutchbat was no longer under his command; obviously, Sarajevo had not taken the trouble to inform him. It was a common complaint at Tuzla that Sarajevo broke the lines of command. At one point Haukland had called the Chief of Operations in Sarajevo to tell him that he had lost contact with Dutchbat. The answer was that the battalion was already on its way to Zagreb.[12]

Apparently, the decision on the route was clinched during the meeting with, amongst others, General Smith in Belgrade on 15 July. It was then that Mladic agreed to a withdrawal of Dutchbat – with local UN personnel – via Belgrade on 21 July. Mladic also agreed that a convoy could supply Dutchbat prior to the departure. Mladic made a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Smith that he would do his best to get back as much as possible of the Dutchbat equipment that had been stolen by the VRS; nothing, however, came of this.[13] The materiel looted by the VRS was never returned.

Mladic did nonetheless honour the agreement on the arrival of the convoy. This convoy, carrying plentiful supplies of fuel for the return trip, had already been requested by UNPROFOR in Pale on18 July.[14] Mladic also stuck to the agreement on the transport of the equipment: Dutchbat was allowed to take all of it.

On 20 July there was momentary panic, when Colonel P. Kracmar, the representative of the Force Commander in Belgrade, came with the disheartening news that the headquarters in Zagreb had failed to notice that Serbia was a sovereign state and had to be asked formally for permission before Dutchbat could cross its territory. Kracmar pointed this out to Janvier after a meeting with Colonel Vuksic, the representative of the General Staff of the VJ. This permission had not yet been requested and the necessary procedures could mean a two-day delay in the timetable for the Dutchbat withdrawal. To make matters worse, separate permission was needed for the APLs.

There were, moreover, restrictions for crossing Serb territory, because small pockets of armed Bosnian Muslims were still active in the area along the Drina. These had come from the column that was trying to reach Tuzla. In addition, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could not guarantee safe passage for the local UN personnel. As long as no permission came from the Yugoslav authorities, the Dutchbat convoys would be stopped at the border. Though arrangements had been agreed with Mladic on the Bosnian-Serb side, he had no jurisdiction in Yugoslavia.[15] After Belgrade, Dutchbat would travel on to Zagreb. What happened to the battalion thereafter will be discussed in detail in Part IV.

In the long run the alarming news from Belgrade did not cause a delay. Neither did the position adopted by the international community at the London Conference of 21 July (a joint stance should be taken to prevent a further Bosnian-Serb advance) throw a spanner in the works. Minister Voorhoeve was momentarily afraid that this standpoint could tempt the Bosnian Serbs still to take Dutchbat hostage in order to stave off any air strikes.[16]

This was not the case. General Mladic ordered the Drina corps and the Bratunac Brigade to do everything possible to ensure that Dutchbat could leave with dignity. The Commander of the Bratunac Brigade, in particular, had to make sure that his staff behaved correctly and he was ordered to escort convoys from and to Potocari. No-one other than Mladic himself was permitted to make arrangements with Dutchbat on a departure or a longer stay. Mladic would be in charge of the Dutchbat escort on 21 July.[17]

On 21 July Dutchbat was able to leave the enclave and make its way to Zagreb. It was not Smith and Mladic who supervised the withdrawal – as had been agreed – because Smith had already left for the London conference. Nicolai did the honours. For Mladic, the departure of Dutchbat was the only occasion upon which he returned to Srebrenica.

According to Sergeant J. Zwiers, the actual departure from Bratunac was well organized by the VRS: ‘I’m sorry to say it, but the Serbs had organized it perfectly. The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee couldn’t have done any better.’ The conduct of the VRS was exemplary; only some of the locals made throat-slitting gestures.[18]


[1] SMG 1004. Outgoing fax HQ UNPROFOR Sarajevo from COS to Dutchbat, 131800B Jul 1995, Fax No. 266/95. See ibidem for the English version.

[2] NIOD, Coll. Brantz. Letter CO-1(NL)UN Infbn to General Mladic 13/07/95, No. TK95115.

[3] SMG, 1004. Letter Lt.-Gen. Ratko Mladic to Lt.-Col. Karremans, 14/07/95, No. 06/17-460. Karremans sent the letter on to Nicolai, Brantz and Janvier.

[4] SMG 1004. Outgoing fax HQ UNPROFOR Sarajevo from COS to Dutchbat, 131800B Jul 1995, Fax No. 266/95. See ibidem for the English version. NIOD Coll. Brantz.

[5] Karremans, Srebrenica, Who Cares?, p. 224.

[6] Karremans, Srebrenica, Who Cares?, p. 226-7. With addition by Karremans 25/11/00.

[7] NIOD, Coll. Brantz. Diary Brantz, (version August 2000).

[8] Karremans, Srebrenica, Who Cares?, p. 234-5.

[9] Interview A.P.P.M. van Baal, 01/11/01.

[10] DAB. Interoffice Memorandum, Maj. Porter, JLOC Plans to Wing Comd Bernard, DCJLOC, 18/07/95; SMG/1004/75. Fax sent from AMA COS UNPF-HQ to DCBC, RNLA Crisis Staff, COS UNPROFOR, 181700B Jul 95.

[11] DCBC, 2823. Fax 1(NL) UN Cie Logbase Split to OCKlu, 20/07/95.

[12] ABZ, DPV/ARA/01654. Memorandum DMP/NH to R, 31/07/95, No. NH-618/95 with summary of trip R to Tuzla and Sarajevo, 14-18 July 1995; interview Hagrup Haukland, 03/05/99.

[13] NIOD, Coll. De Ruiter. ‘Meeting Gen. Smith/Gen. Mladic - 19 Jul 95’, drafted by Lt-Col. J.R.J. Baxter, 19/07/95.

[14] NIOD, Coll. De Ruiter. HQ UNPROFOR G3 Convoy Ops to UNMO Pale, 181000B Jul 95, No. 20-096/07.

[15] UNNY, UNPROFOR, Box 87290 SRFC Belgrade, 13 March - 10 Oct 95. Fax SRFC-B to Lt-Gen. B. Janvier, 201640B Jul 95. UNPROFOR New York Box 8729o SRFC Belgrade, 13 March - 10 Oct 95.

[16] E-mail Bert Kreemers to NIOD, 23/01/02.

[17] ICTY, (IT-98-33) D 83/a, Army of the Republic of Srpska General Staff to Drina Corps, 1st Bratunac Light Infantry Brigade (for attention of the commanders), 20/07/95, No. 06/18-279.

[18] Interview J. Zwiers, 28/04/99.