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Dutch Apologize for Indonesian Massacre

Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd de Zwaan, right, throws petals over graves at the Rawagede Hero Cemetery during commemoration in Rawagede, West Java, Indonesia, December 9, 2011.

The Netherlands has formally apologized to the families of those killed in a 1947 massacre by Dutch troops on Indonesia's Java Island. Activists say the landmark move sets an important precedent, but also highlights the hypocrisy of the Indonesian government in dealing with human rights abuses committed at home.

The Dutch ambassador to Indonesia, Tjeerd de Zwan, issued the official apology Friday in the village of Rawagede, where Dutch troops rounded up and executed up to 430 men in 1947, during Indonesia's bitter struggle for independence.

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

While no individuals have been charged, a court in The Hague ruled in September that the Dutch government should pay compensation of $27,000 to nine of the victims’ families.

The landmark ruling and official apology by the ambassador Friday marks a breakthrough in the Dutch taking responsibility for the harm caused by their colonial policies.

Haris Azhar, coordinator of the human rights group Kontras, emphasized the importance of the breakthrough, but said it also exposes the hypocrisy of the Indonesian government.

“They don't want to talk about human rights no matter who did that violence or abuses in the past," said Azhar. "Because if they mention about the Dutch failure in the past they, the Indonesian government will have to also admit what they did in the past”

Indonesia gained independence in 1949 and Azhar says the Indonesian government’s reluctance to pursue the case is why it has taken 64 years to achieve justice.

Azhar says that if current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also known as SBY, was more proactive about human rights abuses he would rouse a “sleeping tiger” in Indonesian politics because so many cases involve high-profile individuals.

“I think SBY completely understands," said Azhar. "He doesn't want to be face to face with those bloody generals because these bloody generals they still have people, they still have money, they still have businesses, they still have networks and also some of them have political parties, so once SBY touches these people they will touch back through

Two former army generals who have been accused of human rights abuses in East Timor and during the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998 each head their own political parties.

The Indonesian government has also avoided trial in connection with the torture and killing of an estimated 500,000 communists in 1965 and alleged rights abuses in Aceh and the restive province of Papua.