Massacred village in Indonesia awaits Dutch amends

AP News
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Posted: Sep 23, 2011 6:10 AM
Massacred village in Indonesia awaits Dutch amends

Six decades have passed, but Kadun bin Siot's voice still trembles as he recalls the morning Dutch troops surrounded his tiny Indonesia village and nearly wiped out its entire male population.

He was 12, peering through the slats of a wooden barn as soldiers flushed his father out of his hiding place in a trash heap, stabbing it with bayonets until he emerged, blood pouring from his face.

"They dragged him away," the 76-year-old farmer said. "I never saw him again."

Dutch troops clinging to their retreating colonial empire arrived in Rawagede by the hundreds just before dawn on Dec. 9, 1947 and opened fire, sending sleepy residents scattering from their homes in panic.

The troops were looking for resistance leader Lukas Kustario, known for ambushing Dutch bases. When villagers said they didn't know where he was, the soldiers rounded up the boys and young men and took them to an open field.

Squatting in rows, with both hands placed on the backs of their heads, they were shot one by one.

The Dutch said 150 were killed in the massacre _ for which they have yet to apologize _ but villagers put the toll at nearly three times that. Only a few survived.

Relatives of the victims have spent a lifetime waiting for justice.

Though a landmark ruling by a Dutch court last week offered compensation to surviving widows, now in their 80s and 90s, it could take years for the money to wind its way through the political and bureaucratic maze.

But time's running short. Of the 10 claimants in the suit, three have already died, the most recent in May.

Another $1.2 million in "development aid" promised to Rawagade 30 months ago for construction of a school, a hospital and a market is stuck in The Hague. It's supposed to go to Indonesia's Interior Ministry, but a dispute between two foundations representing the interests of the villagers is holding things up.

Standing on his toes, Wahidin carefully lifts a cardboard box off the top shelf from his office and sifts through a bundle of papers until he finds the blueprints.

"Ah, here they are," the regional financial officer says, dusting off the drawings and letting out a deep sigh.

It's as if he almost forgot as well.

"A lot of talk, plans, a rice field was even cleared at one point," said Wahidin, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. "But we haven't seen any of the money that was supposed to go toward helping building these. Not a cent."

Though described as one of the worst massacres by Dutch troops during Indonesia's bloody fight for independence, few in this nation of 240 million have ever heard of Rawagede.

Those who have know it only through a poem by Chairil Anwar that is still recited by school children.

The bones of unsung heroes, he wrote, were stretched like a carpet between the neighboring West Java towns of Karawang and Bekasi.

But 92-year-old Wanti says she needs no such reminders.

"We'll always remember it!" she said, recalling how she hid under her bed with her two children for a day because she was so scared, the rat-a-tat sound of gunfire assaulting her ears.

The next morning, the women in the village went outside to collect the bodies of their husbands, brothers and sons.

"We carried the bodies ... to our homes, dug holes with our bare hands, and buried them in our backyards," said Wanti, recalling how her children helped cloak their father in sheets ripped off the bed.

Her face is grooved with thick lines, her eyes milky from cataracts.

"It was so sad."

Indonesia declared its independence from Dutch colonial rule when World War II ended in 1945. The Netherlands fought unsuccessfully to try to maintain control of its lucrative Asian outpost and Indonesia was finally recognized as independent in 1949.

The massacre _ like the failure of peacekeepers to protect Muslims in Srebrenica a half century later _ remains a black page in Dutch history.

When Nikolaos van Dam, then the Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia, attended a memorial service in Rawagede in 2008, the first representative of his government do so, he said he was "sorry" about the killings.

The remarks, not cleared in The Hague, caused a diplomatic uproar.

Survivors can only hope this month's court ruling will make it easier for the Netherlands to face its past.

They pray they will get not only financial compensation _ though no one has said how much _ but also a heartfelt apology and, eventually, the school, hospital and market their village was promised.

The Dutch insist the money was "development aid," not reparations, and that it will come eventually.

Villagers say they need it. Though the farming community of 3,300 is surrounded by glistening rice paddies, their small health clinic has only one bed. And with no high school, teens have to travel more 35 miles (60 kilometers) if they want to continue past middle school.

"I'm tired of waiting," said Cawi binti Baisa, who was only 20 when her husband of two years left the house to work in the rice paddies never to return.

"But what choice do I have," said the 84-year-old. "I'll wait until I die, if I have to."