Veeramalla Anjaiah and Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
In a bid to close the black chapter in the history of relations between the Netherlands and Indonesia forever, the Dutch government finally expressed its regret for its ""police actions"" which led to massive carnage and suffering in Indonesia during the late 1940s.
The admission of past mistakes came from the visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot on Tuesday during a reception to mark 60 years of Indonesia's independence and the 60th anniversary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta. Bot was the chief guest at the reception hosted by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda.
""In retrospect it is clear that its large-scale deployment of military forces in 1947 put the Netherlands on the wrong side of history. The fact that military action was taken and that many people on both sides lost their lives or were wounded is a harsh and bitter reality especially for you, the people of the Republic of Indonesia,"" Bot, who was born in Batavia (the name for Jakarta during Dutch rule), told the gathering.
""On behalf of the Dutch government I wish to express my profound regret for all that suffering,"" said Bot, who arrived in Jakarta on Tuesday and became the first Dutch minister on Wednesday to attend Independence Day celebrations in Indonesia.
Bot said on Monday that the Dutch government had decided to accept Aug. 17, 1945 as Indonesia's independence date instead of Dec. 27, 1949, the day the Netherlands formally transferred its sovereignty to Indonesia. Indonesia proclaimed its independence on Aug. 17, 1945.
Indonesia welcomed Bot's remarks on Dutch's recognition of Indonesia's independence date and expression of regret for the lives lost and the suffering brought upon Indonesia.
""We should not look to the past but look forward, although there are several points in the past that we should learn from. It is a good signal and kindness on the part of our friends in the Netherlands that they are willing to revise it,"" President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said after a ceremony commemorating the country's independence on Wednesday.
Hassan echoed Susilo's view.
""We happily welcome this (Dutch acceptance). We take it as recognition that we Indonesians became independent because we decided to be independent and proclaimed it so,"" Hassan said.
Indonesia, according to Hassan, suffered more than 100,000 casualties, mostly young people. Thousands of Dutch soldiers also perished in battle.
While responding to questions on a formal Dutch apology, Susilo only said that he did not want to request such things as it was too painful.
""I don't want to comment on that (apology). But for sure, the decision shows the goodness of the Dutch to be willing to revise history,"" he said.
Hassan said Indonesia had never asked for an apology.
""This is a matter that we have always left to their own conscience.""
As an adept diplomat, Bot evaded the issue of a formal apology and said his expression of ""profound regret"" was accepted by Indonesia.
""The Dutch government has morally and politically accepted Indonesia. I also expressed regret for the violence. We should not go into semantics. What is important is that we delivered a message that has been very clearly received in this country and has come straight from the heart,"" Bot said during the press conference, which was held after the reception.
Due to the strong lobby of former Dutch soldiers, who lost 6,000 members during the war in Indonesia, the Dutch government had been reluctant to change its stance on Indonesia.
On the question of compensation for the suffering of Indonesian people, Bot said the Dutch government would not give compensation.
""In place of compensation, The Netherlands has been helping in Indonesia's development. We have been very active in participating in developmental programs in Indonesia. We will continue to do that in the future,"" Bot said.