AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that three Dutch soldiers who spurred three Bosnian Muslim men to leave a U.N. peacekeepers compound in Serb-held Srebrenica need not be prosecuted over the trio's subsequent death in a massacre of 8,000 people.
Srebrenica was a Muslim enclave during Bosnia's 1992-95 war and became the scene of Europe's worst massacre since World War Two after Dutch peacekeepers retreated, leaving the town's Muslim men at the mercy of separatist Serb forces.
Relatives of three of the victims had asked judges to order prosecutors to bring charges against Dutch commanding officer Thom Karremans and two subordinates, accusing them of knowingly allowing or forcing the three Muslim men to go to their deaths.
But the appeals court in Arnhem said prosecutors had made the right judgment in deciding last year not to prosecute the three soldiers for forcing two of the men, both military-aged, to quit their compound after reaching terms with the Serbs.
"The deputy battalion commander was not obliged to realize that Muhamed Nuhanovic ran an appreciable chance of being murdered after leaving the compound," the court said in a statement, adding that this fact also exonerated Karremans.
Nuhanovic's father Ibro was too old for military service and so could have remained in the sanctuary of the compound, but he decided voluntarily to leave it along with his wife and son.
"That was a brave decision, for which he deserves all respect," the court said. "But it was his own decision, for which the accused cannot be held responsible."
The third Bosnian Muslim man was Rizo Mustafic, an electrician then employed by the Dutch battalion. He could therefore have remained in the compound but was not told this. That omission could have been the basis for a manslaughter charge, but the statute of limitations has now passed.
The Srebrenica slaughter marked a turning point in the Bosnian war, heightening an international outcry against Serb nationalist forces who were trying to carve an ethnically homogeneous state out of multi-ethnic Bosnia.
The Dutch peacekeepers' inability to uphold the U.N.-designated "safe area" status of Srebrenica had long-lasting political repercussions in the Netherlands, causing the government to resign in 2002 after a report criticized soldiers for military failings in Bosnia.
Within weeks of the July 1995 fall of Srebrenica to Serb forces, NATO began air strikes against them that brought to an end a war that cost more than 100,000 lives.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Mark Heinrich)