Dutch state in compensation talks over massacre

AP News
Posted: Nov 23, 2011 9:53 AM
Dutch state in compensation talks over massacre

The Dutch government is discussing compensation for relatives of men executed by Dutch forces in a notorious 1947 massacre during Indonesia's battle for independence.

A Dutch court ruled in September the state was responsible for the massacre in the village of Rawagedeh on Java island in which up to 430 men were rounded up and shot. The court ordered the government to pay compensation.

The landmark ruling was the first time the Dutch government has been held responsible by a court for the massacre in its former colony.

The Dutch government said it has held preliminary talks with the relatives' lawyer "about the possibility of reaching a settlement." The victims' lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, welcomed the talks and said she hopes to reach a conclusion soon.

"I am glad the Dutch government has made this move," Zegveld told The Associated Press. "It is good for the country's moral standing."

Zegveld is representing nine relatives of slain men.

"We want to complete this quickly, my clients are all very old," she said.

Sukarman, an Indonesian who for years has campaigned for compensation for the victims, welcomed the talks.

"We are exhausted waiting for good news ... this is a remarkable move by the Dutch government that we certainly welcome happily," said Sukarman, who like many Indonesians uses only a single name.

Sukarman's mother, Cawi binti Baisa, was one of nine widows of slain men who sought compensation. Cawi was only 20 when her husband of two years left their house to work in the rice fields, never to return.

Sukarman said villagers commemorate the massacre each year on Dec. 9, and he hopes that this year the victims will be able to hear good news of a settlement at that time.

The Dutch government has never prosecuted any soldiers for the massacre, despite a United Nations report condemning the attack as "deliberate and ruthless" as early as 1948.

A 1968 Dutch report acknowledged "violent excesses" in Indonesia but argued that Dutch troops were carrying out a "police action" often incited by guerrilla warfare and terror attacks.

After a television documentary explored the bloodbath, the government conceded in 1995 that summary executions had taken place in Rawagedeh, now known as Balongsari, but said prosecutions were no longer possible.

It was not until 2005 that the government formally faced up to the past when former Foreign Minister Ben Bot expressed deep regret for offenses by Dutch forces throughout Indonesia in 1947.

It remains to be seen if the Rawagedeh ruling will open the floodgates for more compensation claims from relatives of people killed during the fight to retain control over the Dutch East Indies, which became Indonesia in 1949.

The September ruling had a very narrow focus, saying widows of men killed deserved compensation.


Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this story from Jakarta, Indonesia.