SYDNEY - Former Australian leader John Howard has disputed claims of genocide against Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their homes and families in decades past.
In an interview late Sunday, Howard defended his decision not to apologise to the so-called "Stolen Generations", saying he regretted what was done but he did not believe in saying sorry for the wrongs of others.
"I wasn't willing to do it, not because I didn't understand there had been a lot of injustices, not because I didn't realise they had been a disadvantaged people," he told the Seven network.
"But I just don't believe that the current generation should apologise for things done in earlier times." Howard, who was prime minister from 1996 until 2007, said he also disagreed with a finding in the 1997 national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that their removal amounted to genocide.
"I didn't accept the conclusion of the 'Bringing Them Home' report that genocide had been practised against the indigenous people," he said.
"I didn't believe genocide had taken place and I still don't," he added, without elaborating.
The "Bringing Them Home" report found that when a child was forcibly removed from a family, that child's entire community lost, often permanently, its chance to perpetuate itself in that child.
"The inquiry has concluded that this was a primary objective of forcible removals and is the reason they amount to genocide," it stated.
Howard, who as prime minister expressed deep personal sorrow at the plight of the nation's indigenous people, said he made an apology "in a sense" with his statement of regret to parliament.
But it fell to Labor leader Kevin Rudd, who defeated Howard in the 2007 election, to make the historic apology to Aborigines for abuses suffered under successive governments since white settlement began in 1788.
The native Aboriginal population were dispossessed by the arrival of British settlers who drove them off their lands.
Their dislocation continued with the forced removal from their families of tens of thousands of Aboriginal children, mostly of mixed descent, carried out until 1970 under laws and policies designed to force assimilation.