Retired US General John J. Sheehan has apologized for saying that openly gay troops were to blame for the massacre at Srebrenica, the AFP reported.

According to the Dutch Defense Ministry, Sheehan, the former Supreme Allied Commander for NATO, apologized for remarks he made before a key Senate panel looking into repeal of “don't ask, don't tell,” the 1993 policy that bans open gay service.

Sheehan said he was “sorry” for telling senators that the integration of gay soldiers by various European countries – Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands included – was to blame for a loss of combat readiness.

“They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military – that includes the unionization of their militaries, it includes open homosexuality. That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war,” he said at the time.

Sheehan went on to explain that the Dutch peacekeeping force assigned to protect the Bosnian “safe haven” of Srebrenica was “under-strength” and “poorly led” because gay troop were allowed to serve openly.

“The Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them,” he said, then added, “That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II.”

In his testimony, Sheehan said retired Dutch Army General Henk van den Breemen had told him that the gay troops were to blame for the massacre. Van den Breemen has called the statement “complete nonsense.”

Sheehan's letter of apology was addressed to Van den Breemen.

“To be clear, the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers.”

“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,” he said.

“It is also regrettable that I allowed you to be pulled into a public debate,” he added.

The Dutch Defense Ministry has called Sheehan's comments “nonsense.”

No investigation “has ever concluded or suggested a link between homosexual military personnel and the things that happened over there [in Srebrenica],” Roger van de Wetering, spokesman for the Dutch Defense Ministry, told the UK daily the Times.

“Every man or woman that meets the criteria physically and mentally is welcome to serve in our armed forces regardless of [religious] belief, sexual preference or whatever,” he added.

Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also took offense to Sheehan's testimony. During the hearing, Levin grilled Sheehan for saying that “no special accommodations should be made for any member of the military.”

“Are members who are straight, who are heterosexual, allowed in our military to say that they are straight and heterosexual? Are the allowed to say that without being discharged?” Levin asked.

“There's no prohibition, to my knowledge,” Sheehan answered after a bit of prodding from Levin, then added, “I wouldn't consider it a special accommodation.”

“Why would it be a special accommodation, then, to someone who's gay, to say, 'Hey, I'm gay'? Why do you call that 'special'? You don't call it 'special' for someone heterosexual or straight. Why do you believe that's a special accommodation to somebody who is gay?” Levin asked.

“It is, because it identifies a group as a special group of people who, by law, make them ineligible for further service,” Sheehan answered.

The Dutch gay rights group Pink Army had threatened to sue the ex-general in California court unless he retracted his remarks.