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Indonesian paper asks: Can Jakarta be more sensitive?

In an editorial headlined Can We Be More Sensitive?, reproduced here, the Jakarta Post yesterday questioned the rationale behind Indonesia's decision to name a warship after two marines who carried out a deadly bomb attack in Singapore in 1965. The Jakarta Post is the largest English-language newspaper in Indonesia with a nationwide circulation.

Published on Feb 9, 2014 7:37 AM
The Indonesian Navy's three newest frigates (from right): KRI Usman Harun 359, KRI John Lie 358 and KRI Bung Tomo 357. . -- PHOTO: INDONESIAN NAVY

"The diplomatic row between Indonesia and Singapore is unfortunate and could have been avoided if we had been a little more sensitive towards our neighbour.

Singapore has formally protested Jakarta's decision to name a new corvette after two marines who planted a bomb, killing three people in the city state five decades ago, at the height of Indonesia's "Confrontation" war with the newly independent (Malaysia), which then included Singapore.

In 1968, Singapore executed the two men, Second Sgt Usman and Second Cpl Harun, in spite of Jakarta's pleas for clemency. Relations between the two countries were only patched up when then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited Jakarta in 1973 and paid his respects at the two men's graves in Jakarta's Kalibata Heroes Cemetery.

Since then, both countries have managed to put the issue behind them and forge close, warm and mutually beneficial ties, bilaterally as well as through Asean.

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Background story


Indonesia's decision to name a new British-made frigate KRI Usman Harun, after two men tried and hanged for a 1965 Orchard Road bombing that left three people dead and 33 injured, prompted five Singapore ministers to raise concerns about the move.

The decision to name the vessel after marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said would reopen old wounds and leave Singaporeans wondering what message Indonesia was trying to send, they said.

In response, Indonesian ministers and senior military officials said the decision was in line with their practice of naming certain ships after national heroes, a status their government had conferred on the two men after their hanging in 1968.

The Indonesian officials said they had not intended to cause offence, but would stick by their decision. Singaporeans generally expressed dismay at the decision to keep the name, but several Indonesian MPs have made light of this.

Indonesia said yesterday the ship will be part of the navy's Eastern Fleet which is based in Surabaya, but could be deployed elsewhere in Indonesian waters.

The marines' bombing of MacDonald House occurred during Konfrontasi, the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation that took place from 1963 to 1966, and was the worst of 37 attacks in Singapore by Indonesian saboteurs then.

Indonesia's then President Sukarno had opposed the formation of Malaysia, which had included Singapore.

Bilateral ties remained tense for years after the incident.

In 1973, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the graves of the two marines on a visit to Jakarta, enabling the countries to put the issue behind them and move on to build close ties.

The recent episode threatens to affect those ties, with Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing saying on Friday that Indonesian leaders' statements in recent days "reflected either a lack of sensitivity, a lack of care for the bilateral ties, or both".