A Dutch court has begun hearing a civil action brought against the Netherlands by relatives of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

They allege the Dutch state was liable for its troops' failure to protect some 8,000 Muslim civilians killed when Bosnian-Serb forces overran the town.

Srebrenica was a UN safe haven under the protection of Dutch peacekeepers at the time in 1995.

The civil case has taken some years to come to court in The Hague.

One plaintiff is Hasan Nuhanovic, whose father, mother and younger brother died in the massacre.

Mr Nuhanovic, who was working as a translator for the UN at the time, claims his relatives were killed after they were forced out of a Dutch military base in the town and handed to Bosnian-Serb troops.

He was allowed to remain inside the base because he had a UN identity card, he told the district court.

The family of Rizo Mustafic, who was working as an electrician for the Dutch military and died in the massacre, is also suing the Dutch government.

Humanitarian mission

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that the UN Dutch battalion (Dutchbat) allowed the killings by handing over Muslims to the Bosnian-Serb forces, and that the Dutch state was liable because it had command of the military.

"Dutchbat was professionally charged with the safety of civilians," lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told the court, according to the AFP news agency.

"They had a humanitarian assignment, but they acted contrary to their instructions."

The Dutch cabinet resigned in 2002 after a report blamed politicians for sending the Dutch UN troops on an impossible mission.

The Bosnian-Serb troops were under the command of Gen Ratko Mladic and the former leader Radovan Karadzic, both of whom are wanted on genocide charges.

The district court will hear a similar civil case on Wednesday brought by a group of plaintiffs calling themselves the "Mothers of Srebrenica".

That case is against the Dutch state and the UN. The court will rule on whether it can hear a case against the UN, which claims immunity