INDONESIA’S armed forces commander, General Moeldoko, has expressed regret over the naming of a new frigate after two marines responsible for a bombing in Orchard Road in 1965.
“We have no ill intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all,” he told Channel NewsAsia in an interview. “I apologise.”
Gen Moeldoko, however, said that the name of the ship would remain the KRI Usman Harun.
“Relations between the two countries are on the mend,” he said, adding that he had spoken with his Singapore counterpart, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng.
Gen Moeldoko’s apology is the first by an Indonesian military official, and signals a desire to close a chapter that has strained close military ties between the two neighbours since it was reported in February that Indonesia would name a frigate after marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said.
The marines were convicted for the bombing of MacDonald House in Singapore in 1965 that killed three civilians and injured 33. The attack happened during Konfrontasi, when then President Sukarno sent armed men to infiltrate newly formed Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part.
The marines were executed in Singapore in 1968, but declared heroes back home.
"It shows the Armed Forces leadership is taking seriously its bilateral relationship with Singapore, and possibly trying to close this chapter," Dr Terence Lee of the National University of Singapore told The Straits Times.
The naming of the ship after the two marines drew protests from the city state, with Singapore ministers contacting their Indonesian counterparts to say the move would reopen old wounds.
But Indonesian officials maintained that the naming was in line with the navy tradition of naming ships after the country's heroes, and that no ill will was intended.
Dr Moeldoko said Indonesia did not think "Usman Harun" would generate such polemics.
"From the onset, we did not have the tendency to stir emotions of the past. Not at all," he said in the interview.
"However there are sensitivities that we did not foresee and it escalated. It is my responsibility as the Commander-in-Chief of the TNI to offer clarification and to take steps to ensure that the situation does not escalate."