Netherlands regrets Indonesian president postponed visit

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The Netherlands said Tuesday it regretted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's decision to postpone his visit over a human rights trial in the host country that lead to his arrest.

"The Netherlands government regrets that the Indonesian president felt obliged to postpone his visit," it said in a statement, adding that it had informed the head of state he would receive immunity from criminal prosecution.

Yudhoyono had cancelled his visit more than an hour after he was supposed to leave on the three-day diplomatic trip to the former colonial power.

"My visit there would coincide with trials related to the RMS (South Maluku Republic) in The Netherlands, in which at the time there would be a ruling whether to arrest the president of Indonesia," Yudhoyono said.

Jakarta crushed the RMS shortly after it declared independence in 1950 but the movement was revived following the fall of authoritarian president Suharto in 1998.

"If the trial takes place during my visit, then this is tied to the dignity and honour of the country, therefore I have decided to postpone this trip," the president said.

If he went ahead with the visit, it might create "misunderstanding" and a "bad psychological reaction", he added.

The court in The Hague was due to examine the complaint filed by the RMS government against the Indonesian president for human rights violations on Tuesday from 3:00 pm (1300 GMT).

"Serious human rights violations have taken place. This is the case since 1950 but today it has become much more serious. The Indonesian president must be arrested," Egbert Tahitu said, lawyer for the RMS.

"We are attacking the president because we want him to release 19 Moluccan prisoners," John Wattilete, RMS president in exile, told AFP.

According to Amnesty, 52-year-old Yusuf Sapakoly "died from kidney failure in a hospital in Ambon (one of the three main island of the South Moluccas) after prison authorities had refused him the relevant medical treatment".

He died on September 13, Amnesty's website said.

Wattilete told journalists he was surprised by Yudhoyono's action, "I did not expect the president to be ready for dialogue at the moment, he can come, we are ready, he is welcome," he said.

The Indonesian president was due to arrive in The Netherlands overnight Tuesday to Wednesday. Queen Beatrix was scheduled to welcome him in the royal palace, followed by a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

Indonesia has fought numerous separatist insurgencies throughout the sprawling archipelago and remains sensitive to breakaway movements.

© 2010 AFP

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