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Singapore: Naming Indonesian warship after marines would reopen old wounds

SINGAPORE — The naming of an Indonesian navy ship after two marines convicted of terrorism in the Republic in the 1960s continued to attract comments from politicians on both sides yesterday, with Singapore asking Indonesia to consider the implications and consequences of the move, while Jakarta pushed back against what it saw as interference.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. TODAY file photo

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — The naming of an Indonesian navy ship after two marines convicted of terrorism in the Republic in the 1960s continued to attract comments from politicians on both sides yesterday, with Singapore asking Indonesia to consider the implications and consequences of the move, while Jakarta pushed back against what it saw as interference.

Meanwhile, Indonesian news portal Tempo.co reported that Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo — widely viewed as a possible contender for the Indonesian presidential election later this year —has agreed to name a street in the capital after the two marines.

Responding to media queries, the Press Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said Singaporeans would question what message Indonesia is trying to send by naming the frigate KRI Usman Harun. The move would reopen old wounds, not just among the victims and their families, but also for the Singapore public, said Mr Teo’s Press Secretary, Mr Yap Neng Jye.

Yesterday, Mr Teo and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen spoke separately to their Indonesian counterparts — Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto and Minister of Defence Purnomo Yusgiantoro. On Wednesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press statement that Foreign Minister K Shanmugam had spoken to Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to register Singapore’s concerns over Indonesia’s move and its impact on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims.

Mr Teo and Dr Ng conveyed the Republic’s perspective that the bombing at Orchard Road in 1965 was a wrong and grievous attack on civilians in Singapore, resulting in deaths and injuries, Mr Yap said.

“The matter had been closed in May 1973 when then PM Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the graves of the two marines. After this, both countries have put the issue behind us and moved on to build the close ties we now enjoy,” he added.

“DPM Teo and Dr Ng, on behalf of the Singapore Government, respectfully asked that Indonesia takes into account the feelings of the victims and their families, and the implications their families, and the implications and consequences, when making their decision whether to name the warship after the two marines.”

The marines, Usman Hj Mohd Ali and Harun Said, were convicted and executed in Singapore for the bombing of MacDonald House on Orchard Road on March 10, 1965. They were members of the special force that infiltrated Singapore during the Indonesian Confrontation (Konfrontasi) against Malaysia between 1963 and 1966.

Indonesia’s then-President Sukarno had opposed the formation of Malaysia — which Singapore was part of between Sept 1963 and Aug 1965 — as Britain’s puppet state.

During the Konfrontasi, the MacDonald House bombing, which killed three people and injured more than 30 others, was the worst single incident among the 37 bombs that hit Singapore. The bomb was placed near the lift on the mezzanine floor of the 10-storey building.

Usman and Harun were hanged on Oct 17, 1968. In retaliation, 400 students in Jakarta burnt the Republic’s flag and ransacked the Singapore Embassy there.

They also attacked the consul’s residence and the homes of two other Singaporean diplomats.

Bilateral relations were restored after Mr Lee’s gesture in 1973.

Yesterday, Indonesia media reported Mr Djoko saying that Indonesia and its navy have the right to pay homage to the country’s heroes by immortalising them on a number of Indonesian warships. Referring to Singapore’s concerns, he added that after Mr Lee’s gesture some four decades ago, there should not be any more problems regarding the issue.

Detiknews.com reported that Mr Djoko had explained Indonesia’s position on the matter to Mr Teo. Mr Yap confirmed this, adding that the two leaders spoke over the phone. “We initiated the phone calls to express our concerns because we value the good relations we have with Indonesia,” said Mr Yap.

In response to Indonesia media’s question on whether the name of the warship will be changed, Mr Natalegawa questioned the need to do so, but he said that he noted the Singapore Government’s concerns.

“There’s no need to change (the ship’s name),” Mr Djoko told The Jakarta Post. “The Indonesian government has its own rules, procedures and assessment criteria for determining whether to honour a person as a hero. This cannot involve any intervention from other countries.”

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