THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A retired American general has apologized for a remark to the U.S. Senate suggesting that gay Dutch soldiers were partly to blame for the Srebrenica massacre by Serb soldiers in Bosnia, according to the Defense Ministry.
The comment by retired Gen. John Sheehan during testimony opposing a proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the U.S. military caused an uproar in the Netherlands, where discrimination against gays is outlawed, including in the military.
The Defense Ministry released an e-mail Tuesday from Sheehan, a former NATO commander who retired from the military in 1997, to retired Dutch Gen. Henk van den Breemen saying he is sorry for his statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 18.
In the e-mail, Sheehan says the 1995 murder of some 8,000 Muslim men in Bosnia's Srebrenica enclave "was in no way the fault of individual soldiers."
Outnumbered and outgunned by Serb forces, Dutch U.N. peacekeepers did not intervene as Muslim families seeking refuge at Srebrenica were separated and the men driven away to be summarily executed and plowed into mass graves.
Sheehan had cited Van den Breemen, the Dutch military's chief of staff at the time of the massacre, as his source when he told the Senate committee Dutch army chiefs had believed gays were "part of the problem" in the fall of Srebrenica.
"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," Sheehan wrote to Van den Breemen.
Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop welcomed the apology.
"The minister is satisfied with the apologies and very pleased that the case is closed," Van Middelkoop's spokesman Otto Beeksma said.
A group calling itself Pink Army said it will likely drop plans to sue Sheehan in a U.S. court.
"The reactions and publicity in the Netherlands and United States have clearly put him under so much pressure that he had to retract his words," said Peter Schouten, who set up Pink Army.
"Now that he has expressed regret, the need to start legal proceedings has vanished," he added.
(This version CORRECTS first name of general to John sted Paul.)