JAKARTA, Indonesia - The Netherlands formally apologized Thursday for mass killings committed by the Dutch military more than six decades ago in Indonesia during its former colony's fight for independence.
"On behalf of the Dutch government, I apologize for these excesses. Today I also apologize to the widows from Bulukumba, Pinrang, Polewali Mandar and Parepare," Dutch Ambassador Tjeerd de Zwaan said, referring to the districts in South Sulawesi where the Dutch troops, then led by Capt. Raymond Westerling, waged a counterinsurgency operation from 1946 to 1947.
De Zwaan said his government has agreed to compensate the victims' widows in Sulawesi and Rawagede, who turned to the Dutch courts seeking retribution. Rawagede, a small village in West Java, was the scene of the Dec. 9, 1947, killing of up to 430 boys and young men by Dutch troops.
Some of the victims' surviving family members attended the ceremony. Ten widows from South Sulawesi — now in their 80s and 90s — sued the Dutch government, and a court there ruled that it must award 20,000 euros ($26,600) to each of the claimants.
Embassy spokesman Nicolaas Schermers said other widows with similar cases can now apply for compensation directly to the government instead of going through the court.
De Zwaan had previously apologized to victims' relatives during a visit to Rawagede in 2011, after an earlier court ruling ordered the Netherlands to give each of those 10 surviving widows the same amount in compensation.
In his speech at the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta, which was meant as a more general apology for all war atrocities, the ambassador said the violence claimed many innocent victims on both sides and resulted in suffering that is still felt today.
"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 said.
Indonesia's presidential office declined to comment, referring queries to the Foreign Ministry. It did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Indonesia declared its independence from Dutch colonial rule on Aug. 17, 1945, but the Netherlands refused to acknowledge it and fought unsuccessfully to maintain control of the lucrative Asian outpost. It finally recognized the country as an independent nation in 1949.
Indonesian authorities claim some 40,000 people were killed during the operation, while most Dutch historians estimate the dead at about 1,500.
A 1968 Dutch report acknowledged "violent excesses" in Indonesia but argued that Dutch troops were conducting a "police action" often incited by guerrilla warfare and terror attacks. The Dutch government has never prosecuted any soldiers for the killings despite a U.N. report condemning the attack as "deliberate and ruthless" as early as 1948.
De Zwaan was scheduled to travel to South Sulawesi next week to meet directly with some of the surviving widows who were too weak due to their age to attend Thursday's event.
None of the relatives attending the ceremony agreed to speak to speak to the press.