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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Tuesday he had postponed his visit to the Netherlands after pro-Moluccan human rights activists asked a Dutch court to order his arrest.
Yudhoyono was scheduled to arrive in the Netherlands on Wednesday for a three-day state visit. He was at the airport in Jakarta preparing to leave when he suddenly called a news conference to announce the visit was off.
"In recent days, a group has filed a request to the court to make an issue out of human rights in Indonesia and request the court to arrest me during the state visit. The group includes Dutch citizens and also the RMS," he said.
"What I cannot accept is if the president of Indonesia makes a visit to the Netherlands, after an invitation from the Netherlands, the court decides to arrest the president of Indonesia."
The news is unlikely to cause long-term damage to Indonesia's relationship with its former colonial ruler, but could be an attempt to put pressure on the Dutch government to address Dutch-based Moluccan separatists and their sympathisers.
Indigenous groups in the southern Moluccas, particularly on Ambon island, have long agitated for the creation of an independent Republic of the Southern Moluccas (RMS).
Some were jailed in the past couple of years for performing a war dance associated with the movement. Indonesian police were recently accused of torturing several activists associated with the movement who were arrested after they were found with banned flags and books.
A spokesman for the Dutch prime minister's office said Indonesian authorities had not yet given a clear response on Yudhoyono's visit.
"We are still in contact," he said.
Activists associated with the Republic of South Moluccas movement had asked a Dutch court for an injunction to have Yudhoyono arrested for alleged human rights violations in Indonesia, a court spokeswoman in The Hague said.
She said legal immunity rules would prevent the president's prosecution but the Moluccan group had also requested the court to lift that ban.
Yudhoyono's spokesman, Julian Pasha, said three Dutch citizens had filed the request to the court, and that the president was concerned the court proceedings could be speeded up to coincide with his visit this week.
Although the Dutch government had granted the president full diplomatic immunity, a decision on the case during his visit could be "unpleasant for the honour of the president and this nation."
"This was actually the fourth or the fifth time the president has cancelled the trip," Pasha added.
Andre de Hoogh, senior lecturer international law at Groningen University, said the Dutch court could not issue an arrest warrant for Yudhoyono because it would conflict with international law which grants immunity to heads of state.
"It is an unlucky situation when a head of state cancels a visit, of course. Political relations may come under pressure a bit but at the same time I don't think this is of great importance," De Hoogh said.
He did not expect Dutch-Indonesian relations to suffer from the decision.
Additional reporting by Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam; Editing by Sara Webb and Sugita Katyal