US General's climbdown over 'gay Dutch army' remarks

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Retired US General John Sheehan has apologised for his public remarks blaming homosexuals in the Dutch army for the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

Speaking to a US Senate committee last week, General Sheehan said that the fall of the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica and the ensuing mass murder of Muslims was owing to the presence of gays in the Dutch military. He claimed that Dutch chief-of-staff General Henk van den Breemen had told him that the Dutch army was weak because of the homosexual presence. General Van den Breemen denies he ever made such a remark.

In an apology to General Van den Breemen, Sheehan has written that his memories of conversations held 15 years ago were "inaccurate". The former general also wrote that the fall of Srebrenica can in no way be blamed on individual soldiers, but is solely due to the mandate given to the international force as a whole. The US general is not explicitly referring to his remarks about homosexuals.

General Sheehan's Senate testimony caused an uproar in the Netherlands last week. Both the cabinet and the Lower House, as well as gay rights groups expressed their anger over what was perceived as a slur on the Dutch armed forces. The "Pink Army", an interest group for homosexuals in the forces, has said it is cancelling its plans to take General Sheehan to court for slander. "It is quite something for a senior military man to admit he was wrong and say sorry," a Pink Army representative told NOS radio. A spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Defence said General Van den Breemen is satisfied with the apology.

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