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Singapore sends strong signal to Jakarta, will bar Indonesian ship

SINGAPORE — The Indonesian ship named after two convicted terrorists will not be allowed to dock in Singapore, and the Republic’s navy will not sail with it in joint exercises, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday in a strongly-worded reply to a parliamentary question.

SINGAPORE — The Indonesian ship named after two convicted terrorists will not be allowed to dock in Singapore, and the Republic’s navy will not sail with it in joint exercises, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday in a strongly-worded reply to a parliamentary question.

Calling the ship Singapore’s bete noire, Dr Ng said the vessel would always carry with it the dark history of Konfrontasi, of lives tragically cut short in vain, the suffering and blighted futures of hapless victims.

Responding to a question by Chua Chu Kang GRC Member of Parliament Zaqy Mohamad, who asked about the Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF) response to Indonesia’s naming of the warship after Usman Hj Mohd Ali and Harun Said, Dr Ng said: “A ship named ‘Usman-Harun’ sailing on the high seas would unearth all the pain and sorrow caused by the MacDonald House bomb blast, which had been buried and put to rest.

“It would be a bete noire, unleashing resentful feelings and spirits from the past, a constant reminder of the military aggression and atrocious crimes committed by the Indonesian marines who killed or irreparably damaged the lives of innocent civilians and their families in Singapore.

Singapore’s decision came after several ministers, including Dr Ng, had voiced the Republic’s concerns to their Indonesian counterparts and asked the Indonesian government to reconsider the naming of the ship. The Singapore ministers had also pointed out that Indonesia’s “inexplicable move” will have consequences on bilateral relations, Dr Ng noted.

He said: “Even without ill intent, how can the naming of the ship after two bombers build good ties, or enhance mutual respect and regard with both our countries?”

The two marines had carried out the 1965 attack on Macdonald House — which killed three people and injured more than 30 others — as part of a series of bombings on the island during the Indonesian Confrontation. They were hanged in 1968. In retaliation, 400 students in Jakarta burnt the Republic’s flag and ransacked the Singapore Embassy there.

In 1973, bilateral relations were restored after then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the marines’ graves.

Noting that Singapore had worked hard to improve military relations with Indonesia over the subsequent decades, Dr Ng reiterated that the Republic wants good defence ties and close military-to-military relationships with Indonesia. “But strong defence ties can only be built on mutual trust and respect, expressed through appropriate acts that underscore friendship and amity,” he said.

He said it would not be possible for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), as protectors of the nation, to sail alongside or take part in an exercise with the Indonesian Navy corvette KRI Usman-Harun.

Dr Ng said Singapore and Indonesia conduct joint-patrol in their waters and had assisted each other during disasters such as the SilkAir Flight MI185 flight crash and the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster in Aceh. Both the SAF and the Indonesian military have also been able to discuss sensitive matters behind closed doors, and put disagreements on hold until conditions improve to settle them, he said.

“But the naming of the ship came as an utter surprise,” said Dr Ng. “MINDEF and the SAF were disappointed and dismayed over this inexplicable move.”

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam asked about the SAF’s stance in the event that the KRI Usman-Harun participates in multilaterial exercises — such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus exercises — which involves the Singapore military.

Dr Ng declined to go into the details of how the SAF would react. He said: ““I don’t propose to go into the litany of what we going to do. I don’t think that is productive ... I have stated explicitly in terms of not allowing the ship to enter our port, and the SAF will not be associated with exercises with the ship. I think that is abundantly clear.”

Dr Ng reiterated that the incident was a setback for bilateral ties. “I would say that over the next period we will see what we can do to rebuild ties, but it also depends on what both parties do,” he said.

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