JAKARTA: The Netherlands sought to “close a difficult chapter” with its former colony Indonesia on Thursday by publicly apologising for summary executions carried out by the Dutch army in the 1940s.
As children of some of the men who were massacred without trial looked on, Dutch ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd De Zwaan offered a state apology during a ceremony at the Dutch embassy in Jakarta.
“On behalf of the Dutch government, I apologise for these excesses,” said the ambassador.
“The Dutch government hopes that this apology will help close a difficult chapter for those whose lives were impacted so directly by the violent excesses that took place between 1945 and 1949.”
He was referring to the years of the Indonesian war of independence, when the sprawling archipelago nation sought to shake off Dutch colonial rule.
The Hague had previously said sorry to the relatives of those in particular cases but it has before never offered a general apology for all summary executions.
Last month the Dutch government also announced that it would pay 20,000 euros ($26,600) to the widows of those killed.
Special attention was given at Thursday’s ceremony to the widows of men killed during a brutal campaign on Sulawesi island in central Indonesia.
The Dutch government in August compensated 10 women whose husbands were executed by its army in the “South Sulawesi Campaign” of 1946 and 1947, and their children were those present at the Jakarta ceremony.
The ambassador said he planned to fly next week to Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, to meet the widows, who are aged between 90 and 100.
One of the worst atrocities committed by the Netherlands in Indonesia, the campaign saw Dutch troops carry out summary executions in a series of villages over three months in a bid to wipe out resistance to colonisation.
Some in Indonesia have claimed the death toll was as high as 40,000 but historical studies have put it at several thousand.
In 2011 the Dutch government also offered a public apology and compensation for victims of summary executions which took place at Rawagede, on the main island of Java.
Thousands of Indonesians were killed in the war of independence, which ended in 1949.