Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende has attacked a retired US Army general for claiming that the Srebrenica massacre was partly caused by allowing out gay soldiers.

Mr Balkenende told a press conference today that former Marine and NATO commander General John Sheehan had made a “disgraceful statement”.

AFP reports he said: “I find it untenable … towards homosexuals. You don’t talk that way about people.

“I find it below standard if one speaks in this manner of the work that people have to do in difficult circumstances.”

Gen Sheehan’s remarks, made yesterday to a Senate hearing, caused shock. He was arguing against lifting the ban on out gay soldiers in the US military.

He said that Dutch military leaders told him poor morale from allowing openly gay soldiers had contributed to the 1995 massacre, which happened while Dutch forces were supposed to be protecting Muslims from Bosnian Serbs.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asked him: “Did the Dutch leaders tell you it [the fall of Srebrenica] was because there were gay soldiers there?”

Gen Sheehan replied: “Yes. They included that as part of the problem.”

Dutch defence ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering said that Gen Sheehan was talking “complete nonsense”, while defence minister Eimert van Middelkoop said his remarks were “disgraceful and unworthy of a soldier”.