Dutch King Willem-Alexander offered the first royal apology to Indonesia on Tuesday for “excessive violence” by Dutch forces during a campaign to re-occupy the then-Dutch East Indies region after the Southeast Asian nation proclaimed its independence in 1945.
The king delivered the apology after he and his wife, Queen Maxima, were welcomed by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his wife, Iriana, at the presidential palace near Jakarta on the first full day of a four-day visit.
“In the years immediately after the Proklamasi, a painful separation followed that cost many lives,” Willem-Alexander said, referring to Indonesia’s proclamation of independence on Aug. 17, 1945.
“In line with earlier statements by my government, I would like to express my regret and apologize for excessive violence on the part of the Dutch in those years,” he said. “I do so in the full realization that the pain and sorrow of the families affected continue to be felt today.”
In welcoming the king, Jokowi said his government was committed to building ties based on “mutual respect, mutual benefit and equality.”
“I want to say that we certainly cannot erase history, but we can learn from the past,” Jokowi said.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also welcomed the apology.
“There is one new element – that the king expressed remorse and apologies for the violence carried out by the Dutch side. I think it is quite clear and does not need a further explanation,” Retno told reporters.
Indonesia declared independence in 1945 after Japan, which occupied the then-Dutch East Indies for 3½ years, surrendered unconditionally following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the Dutch, which had colonized the region to control the spice trade, officially recognized Indonesia’s sovereignty only in December 1949.
The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army waged violent anti-insurgency operations that led to the killings and summary executions in South Sulawesi and West Java between 1946 and 1947.
Estimates of the deaths in the South Sulawesi massacre vary from 1,500 to 40,000, while authorities said almost 500 people were killed in the West Java village of Rawagede.
In 2013, the Dutch government for the first time made a general apology for the mass killings carried out by its troops in Indonesia.
The king’s visit, which runs through Friday, was marred by news of a fatal boating accident that killed seven people and injured 20 others, including two Dutch Embassy staff members.
Two boats – one carrying park rangers and the other carrying members of the presidential guard corps – collided on Monday while surveying a location to be visited by the Dutch royal couple in Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan province, according to Yusuf Latief, spokesman for the national search and rescue agency.
Those killed included local military chief Bambang Kristianto, Yusuf said.
The royals planned to visit Palangkaraya on Wednesday to discuss conservation within the Borneo rainforest.
The king called the accident tragic.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic boat accident, yesterday, on the Sebangau River,” he said. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and with the injured.”
The king’s office said the visit through Thursday would focus on economic ties, nature conservation, culture and science. The Netherlands is among the largest importers of Indonesia’ palm oil.
On Tuesday, officials from both nations signed business deals valued at $1 billion (14.3 trillion rupiah) in the areas of sustainable palm oil production, human resource development and disease control.
“In the European region, the Netherlands is Indonesia’s second largest trading partner, largest investor and fourth largest tourism contributor,” Jokowi said.