THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Dutch government on Friday backed a multi-year inquiry into the end of its colonial period in Indonesia in the 1940s, when troops from the Netherlands are accused of massacres in Southeast Asia's largest nation.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has just returned from a trip to Indonesia, said the inquiry will look into hostilities on both sides between 1946 and 1949. He "stressed the importance of working together" during talks with his Indonesian counterpart.
Digging into the colonial past "could be painful for Dutch veterans from that period," the government said in a statement.
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"The Netherlands places a high value on protecting and promoting human rights, international law and the rule of law," the statement said. "Gaining more insight into our own past plays an important role."
Known as the Dutch East Indies, the vast archipelago was a colony of the Netherlands from 1800 to 1949, and a main source of the country's wealth thanks to the trade in Indonesian spices, precious metals and minerals.
The Netherlands has apologized for killings at the hands of Dutch forces at the time and paid some damages to survivors, but the extent of atrocities has not been documented.
The inquiry, which is expected to take several years, will be led by three highly-regarded Dutch research institutes.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Tom Heneghan)