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Singapore explains stance on ship naming, welcomes Jakarta's overture

Published on Feb 12, 2014 5:26 PM
 
Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam (above) has welcomed as constructive his Indonesian counterpart's stance that there was no ill will or malice intended in Indonesia's naming of a warship after two marines who carried out a bombing in Orchard Road that killed three civilians in 1965. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam has welcomed as constructive his Indonesian counterpart's stance that there was no ill will or malice intended in Indonesia's naming of a warship after two marines who carried out a bombing in Orchard Road that killed three civilians in 1965.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Tuesday that no ill will, malice or unfriendly outlook had been meant and that Indonesia values its relationship with Singapore.

"In that context, it is quite important for us to know that the marines are not being honoured for killing Singaporeans," Mr Shanmugam said on Wednesday.

Still, he added, both countries had to understand and acknowledge that the naming of the ship "impacts on us and impacts on our sensitivities".

Indonesia's naming of a Navy ship after marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said had sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries, after it was reported in the press last week.

The men had posed as civilians and set off a bomb in MacDonald House on March 10, 1965, killing three people and injuring 33.

They were later tried and executed here in 1968, but were given heroes' burials in Indonesia. Indonesia has said it will name a new navy frigate the KRI Usman Harun.

Mr Shanmugam said that although it was Indonesia's sovereign right to name the ship as it chooses, sovereign decisions can have an impact on other countries.

In this case, it "intersects with a part of our mutual history, and the Singaporean and Indonesian mutual decision to put that history behind us," he said.

Both countries should be sensitive about the issue to "make sure that it is behind us and not reopen it".

That is why Singapore asked Indonesia to reconsider the decision, he said. It is one thing to name a building in Indonesia after them or bury them in the Heroes' cemetery but quite another to name a warship after the two men, said Mr Shanmugam.

"The signal would be very different because the ship sails the seven seas, carrying that message to every land that the ships goes to as it carries that nation's flag. What is that message?"

Earlier in the interview, he said that what the two marines had done was part of a "campaign of terror" that is illegal under International Law.

"There is nothing subjective about the Geneva Conventions. What happened was illegal under international law, period.

"If it happens now, if people plant bombs to kill civilians, historians won't be debating on how to characterise it. There are no shades of grey here," he said.

The two men's fatal bombing of MacDonald House was part of a spate of attacks that also included hits on schools and other civil institutions using saboteurs, and which saw bombs planted across the island, he added.

During that period, from 1963 to 1966, Indonesia under then -president Sukarno staged a Confrontation against newly formed Malaysia, which at that time included Singapore.

Besides Mr Shanmugam, four other ministers have spoken out against the naming of the ship. Indonesia's military chiefs and officers did not attend this week's airshow in Singapore.