Dutch state must pay Indonesia war widows, children: Court

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The Dutch state must compensate widows and children of men executed by colonial troops in the late 1940s, a court in The Hague ruled on Wednesday, potentially opening the door to similar claims.

"The Dutch state is liable to compensate Indonesian relatives of men who were illegally executed between 1946-49 in the former Dutch East Indies," the three-judge bench said in a ruling.

Twenty-three plaintiffs - 18 widows and five children - took the Dutch state to court in 2012, almost a year after judges ruled in favour of widows in a similar case involving executions at an Indonesian village in 1947.

In a separate case, a widow is suing for the death of her husband in 1949 in the town of Peniwen in Eastern Java.

The relatives are claiming compensation for the murder of their husbands and fathers, executed by colonial Dutch troops during so-called "cleansing actions" to root out Indonesian freedom fighters during its independence struggle.

At least 860 men died in front of firing squads, mostly between December 1946 and April 1947 on Indonesia's Sulawesi island, then called Celebes.

Judges ruled Wednesday that nine widows were indeed married "to men who were executed".

The other 14 - including children of victims who were for the first time included in a compensation ruling - still need to prove they were related to men who died by Dutch firing squads, the judges said.

The court said it would appoint an expert to investigate.

Judges slapped down the state's defence that the cases had lapsed because of a statute of limitations in Dutch law, calling the lawsuit "exceptional".

"We are very satisfied, particularly because the court ruled that children are also liable for compensation," the relatives' lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told AFP.

Dubbed the "South Celebes Affair" by local media, the Netherlands for the first time in 2013 formally apologised for the executions.

Previously, the Dutch government was ordered to pay €20,000 (S$29,000) in compensation to other Indonesian widows who brought similar cases to the Hague court.

The court did not set a compensation amount for the nine widows in this case.

"This is a first step," Jeffry Pondaag, chairman of the KUKB Foundation that represents victims' families told AFP.

"We will now travel to Indonesia to see if we can find more victims' children," he said.