Dutch also find it hard to apologise for the past

Jakarta (Reuter) - Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands went into the second day of a sensitive state visit to Indonesia yesterday after speaking of the "harsh consequences" of Dutch colonial rule but stopping short of an explicit apology. At a banquet hosted by President Suharto, she also expressed deep sadness for the many deaths in fighting after Japan's occupation during the Second World War.

Indonesia declared independence on 17 August 1945, after nearly four centuries of colonial rule over the then Dutch East Indies. Dutch forces withdrew only about five years later after a bitter war.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok, in a message published in the Jakarta Post yesterday to mark the royal visit, wrote of "unbearable suffering" on both sides in the late 1940s.

Queen Beatrix, on a 10-day visit and accompanied by her husband Prince Claus, is only the second Dutch monarch to visit since independence. Indonesia had said it would not ask for an apology but one would be accepted if offered.

"The establishing of effective rule throughout the whole archipelago in the course of the 19th century did not indeed take place without conflict," the Queen said at a banquet on Monday night. "The opening up and economic exploitation of these areas must also have brought harsh consequences for the Indonesians at that time."

She spoke of the "pain and bitter conflict" of what she called separation, adding: "When we look back on that time ... it deeply saddens us that so many died in that struggle or have had to bear its scars for the rest of their lives."