Demobilisation of the Moluccan soldiers to the Netherlands 1951





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Published on Mar 3, 2012

During the Indonesian National Revolution or Indonesian War of Independence, the Dutch had to disband the reinstated KNIL and the native soldiers had the choice of being demobilised or joining the army of the Republic of Indonesia. Due to a deep distrust of the Republican leadership, being predominantly Javanese Muslim, this was an extremely difficult choice for the Protestant Ambonese and only a minority chose to serve with the Indonesian Army. Disbanding proved a complicated process and, in 1951, two years after the transfer of sovereignty, not all soldiers had been demobilised. The Dutch were under severe international pressure to disband the colonial army and temporarily made these men part of the regular Dutch army, while trying to demobilise them in Java. Herein lay the source of the discontent among the Moluccan soldiers as, according to the KNIL policy, soldiers had the right to choose the place where they were to be discharged at the end of their contract. The political situation in the new Republic of Indonesia was initially unstable and, in particular, controversy over a federal or centralised form of the state resulted in armed conflicts in which Ambonese ex-KNIL men were involved. In 1951 an independent Republic of the South Moluccas (Indonesian: RMS, Republik Maluku Selatan) was proclaimed at Ambon. The RMS had strong support among the Ambonese KNIL soldiers. As a consequence the Moluccan soldiers located outside the South Moluccas demanded to be discharged at Ambon. But Indonesia refused to let the Dutch transport these soldiers to Ambon as long as the RMS was not repressed, fearing prolonged military struggle. When after heavy fighting the RMS was repressed at Ambon, the soldiers refused to be discharged there. They now demanded to be demobilised at Seram, where counter revolutionary pockets of resistance against Indonesia still existed. This was again blocked by Indonesia.

The Dutch government finally decided to transport the remaining men and their families to the Netherlands. They were discharged on arrival and 'temporarily' housed in camps until it was possible for them to return to the Moluccan islands. In this way around 12,500 persons were settled in the Netherlands, more or less against their will and certainly also against the original plans of the Dutch government. The reaction of the Dutch government to the settlement of the Moluccan soldiers was exactly the opposite of the reaction to the Indo repatriates. Whereas the latter were defined as fellow-citizens who had to be integrated as quickly and as fully as possible, the Moluccans were considered to be temporary residents who had to be repatriated to Indonesia. They were 'temporarily' housed in camps, mostly in rural areas and near small towns. A special agency was set up to manage all matters concerning these temporary residents, the 'Commissariaat Ambonezenzorg' (CAZ).

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