Indonesian Village Riven By Massacre Compensation

Published January 16, 2012 6:45AM (EST)

RAWAGEDE, Indonesia (AP) — Relatives of men executed by Dutch troops in this tiny Indonesian village fought for six decades to get compensation that was supposed to heal wounds. Now that they have the money, it has ripped Rawagede apart once again.

Only a few of the residents — most of them widows in their 80s and 90s — brought the case to court.

But with hundreds killed, many more suffered. Claiming part of the $270,000 was rightfully theirs, old friends and neighbors cajoled, bullied and intimidated the plaintiffs and their families until local officials jumped in, forcing them to part with half their cash.

"It's not fair," said Muskar Warjo, who lost his father and grandfather in the massacre that wiped out nearly the entire male population of Rawagede. "Our lawyers said the money belonged to us, that we could use it as we saw fit."

Soldiers clinging to their retreating colonial empire arrived just before dawn on Dec. 9, 1947 in search of a well-known resistance leader and — after getting no help — led up to 430 boys and young men to a rice field and shot them one by one.

It took 64 years, but in September a Dutch court ordered its government to apologize for the killings and to give each of the 10 plaintiffs $27,000. Three died during the course of the trial and the money went to their families instead.

Muskar, representing his mother after her death in 2009, said almost immediately after the verdict was handed down, mobs surrounded his home, the faces of people he'd known all his life, twisted with hatred and anger.

"There were hundreds of them, screaming, threatening to burn down my house if I didn't give them some of my money," said the 75-year-old, his eyes brimming with tears. "In the end, I didn't have any choice."

The court ruling has paved the way for similar allegations of war crimes during the Netherlands' centuries-long rule in Indonesia — and raised the possibility of further compensation.

But good intentions went awry in this small farming village of 3,000 where — as in other parts of this sprawling, developing nation of 240 million — quick turns of fortune are rarely celebrated by those left behind, trying to eek out a living on as little as $2 a day.

In Rawagede, the jealousy even set siblings against each other.

Muskar escaped the mob outside his house on Dec. 27 and — after a community decision to divvy up the cash — was escorted by local authorities to a neighboring village for his own safety until tensions eased.

Still afraid, he decided to go instead to a relative's house just outside the capital, Jakarta. Before long, however, Rawagede officials showed up in a van to bring him home. They said they could guarantee his safety, but in turn wanted him to sign a letter agreeing to part with his money, Muskar said.

In the end, his mother's dream to replace their rickety, wooden shack with a new brick house remains just that, he said: a dream.

Additional compensation in the works would benefit the community as a whole: the Dutch government promised three years ago to provide $1.2 million in "development aid" to build a school, hospital and market in Rawagede. But even that money has been caught up in a dispute. It remains stuck in The Hague because of a disagreement between two Indonesian foundations — both claiming to represent the villagers' interests.

Officials at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not immediately be reached for comment about any of the compensation disputes.

The executions still loom large in Rawagede.

A hero's cemetery, with row after row of simple white grave stones, has been built on the outskirts. The anniversary is marked by the whole town every year.

Old women and men, their faces heavily grooved and backs curved by scoliosis, tremble when talking about the morning Dutch troops arrived in their village by the hundreds and opened fire, sending sleepy residents scattering from their homes in panic.

Some hid under beds with their children. Others concealed themselves in bushes or jumped into rivers, helpless as they watched the soldiers round up all the boys and men they could find.

Forced to squat in rows, with both hands placed on the backs of their heads, they were shot, the survivors say.

Kadun bin Siot was among those who protested the court award.

"What about me?" he said, his lips quivering as he struggled to contain his emotion. "Why don't I deserve to be compensated. I suffered as much as they did."

He was 12, peering through the slats of a wooden barn as soldiers flushed his father out of his hiding place in a trash heap, stabbing it with bayonets until he emerged, blood pouring from his face.

"They dragged him away," said the 76 year-old farmer. "I never saw him again."

"I'm very angry at the Dutch. First the killings and now this. The way they are handing out money," he said. "It's just created jealously, anger."

It was after hearing many such complaints that Mamat, the village chief, decided to call a meeting. He invited plaintiffs and their families — as well as police and other top local officials — to reach an agreement. The widows and their families should share. People like Kadun ended up getting $500, a lot in Rawagede, but not nearly enough to fully appease anyone.

"It's an extremely sensitive situation," said Mamat, who goes by only one name. "The Dutch government can't be expected to understand that money, distributed unfairly, causes new problems. We all know it's impossible to make everyone happy, but we had to try."

The plaintiffs say in the end the money may have caused more problems than good.

The family of 92-year-old Wanti Dodo was ripped apart.

What the widow wanted was a few gold bracelets and rings — a dream she had since childhood. The rest she divided between her seven sons and daughter. Two of her children protested — those from Wanti's first husband, Enap, who was killed in the massacre.

They felt they deserved more, said Iwa Kartiwa, Wanti's son.

The hassling by villagers started as soon as the court handed down its verdict, he said. Every time the phone rang, neighbors would flock to the house and pepper them with questions.

Was it news about the compensation, the would ask. How much was it? When would it arrive?

The tone quickly grew hostile.

Soon their house, too, was surrounded by a mob.

"We didn't 'agree' to give away the money. We had to," said Cawi, his sister.

"What else could we do?"

By Salon Staff

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