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The Dutch ambassador to Indonesia has formally apologised on behalf of the Netherlands’ government for the 1947 massacre in a village on Java island, in an emotional ceremony on the anniversary of the executions.
"In this context and on behalf of the Dutch government, I apologise for the tragedy that took place in Rawagede on the 9 December 1947," the Netherlands' ambassador to Indonesia, Tjeerd de Zwaan, said
He then repeated the apology in the Indonesian language, to the applause of hundreds of people attending the ceremony, some of whom broke down in tears as they listened in front of a marble monument commemorating the dead
The number of victims has always a point of dispute between the Dutch and the Indonesians. Dutch officials claim some 150 people were killed, but a support group and the local community allege the death toll was 431.
Men and boys executed
During Indonesia’s fight for independence between 1945 and 1949 - in what became known as the Indonesian National Revolution - Dutch troops swooped into the village of Rawagede and executed its men and boys as their families and neighbours looked on.
In a landmark ruling last September, a civil court in The Hague found the Dutch state responsible for the executions and ruled in favour of eight widows and a survivor of the massacre who lodged the case. Two of the widows have since died, and so has the survivor, Saih Bin Sakam, who passed away in May at the age of 88
The Netherlands agreed to pay 850,000 euros to the community before the court's decision, and will now pay an additional 180,000 euros in compensation to the plaintiffs or their families.
Although the Dutch government in the past expressed "deep regret" over the conduct of some of its troops in pre-independence Indonesia, it had never formally apologised for any excesses, including the massacre at Rawagede.
The Hague court rejected the Dutch argument that no claim could be lodged because of a five-year expiry in the statute of limitations, saying it was "unacceptable".
“We will never forget that day”
Some 60 schoolgirls in white Islamic headscarves opened the ceremony with the Indonesian national anthem. They then presented a spoken word performance describing the pain the community has felt since the killings.
"We will never forget that day in Rawagede," the lead performer screamed. "We will remember forever in an independent Indonesia."
Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa praised the Dutch government for making the apology.
Dutch embassy officials presented the widows with a wooden plaque with a windmill carved on the left and a palm tree on the right, with the words "Finally justice for the people of Rawagede" and the date of the court ruling inscribed on the plague.
REMEMBER me when I am gone away
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.