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Singapore concerned over naming of Indonesian navy ship after executed commandos

Published on Feb 6, 2014 7:24 AM
 
Osman Haji Mohammed Ali, 25, and Harun Said, alias Tahir, 21, (third and fourth from left) were charged with having "knowingly caused" the deaths of three persons when a bomb exploded on the landing of the mezzanine floor of MacDonald House on March 10, 1965. --PHOTO: ST FILE PHOTO

Singapore has registered its concerns over Indonesia’s naming of a navy ship after two Indonesian marines who took part in the 1965 bombing of MacDonald House on Orchard Road.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said on Wednesday night that Foreign Minister K Shanmugam spoke to his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Marty Natalegawa, to register these concerns “and the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims”.

Indonesia’s Kompas daily had reported this week that the last of the Indonesian Navy’s three new British-made frigates would be named the KRI Usman Harun, after marines Osman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said.

“The two Indonesian marines were found guilty of the bombing which killed three people and injured 33 others,” the MFA spokeman said in response to media queries.

“Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines,” he added.

The duo were members of Indonesia’s special Operations Corps Command, which is today the Marine Corps, and had been ordered to infiltrate Singapore during Indonesia’s Confrontation with Malaysia.

Then-president Sukarno had opposed the formation of Malaysia, which Singapore was part of from September 1963 to August 1965, as a puppet state of the British.

Both marines were convicted and executed in Singapore in 1968 for the March 10, 1965 bombing of MacDonald House, which stands near where Dhoby Ghaut MRT station is today.

Their hanging saw some 400 agitated students in Jakarta ransack the Singapore embassy, attack the consul’s residence and burn the Singapore flag, and bilateral ties remained tense for several years. 

The marines were welcomed home as heroes, and given a ceremonial funeral at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta.

Relations between Singapore and Indonesia were restored when Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited Jakarta in 1973, and sprinkled flowers on the marines’ graves.

Former Singapore ambassador to Indonesia Lee Khoon Choy had earlier recounted that the gesture, which the Javanese believe propitiates the souls of the dead, moved the hosts deeply because it demonstrated that Singapore was sensitive to Javanese culture.

But in recent years, efforts to commemorate both marines – alongside other declared heroes – have resurfaced, and last year(2013), the Marine Corps proposed to rename Jalan Prapatan in Central Jakarta, where the unit’s headquarters are, as Jalan Usman Harun. The Navy said two other new ships it would take charge of would be named after Indonesian independence heroes Bung Tomo and John Lie. The first, KRI Bung Tomo, will set sail from Britain in June 2014.

Bung Tomo led the popular resistance against Allied British and Dutch forces in the Battle of Surabaya in November 1945, while John Lie smuggled agricultural produce to buy and smuggle arms from Malaya for the fledgling Indonesian armed forces from 1945 to 1949.

Kompas cited Indonesia’s Navy chief, Admiral Marsetio, as saying that the three ships would be named after these men “in remembering the services they had rendered to the Indonesian nation”.

zakirh@sph.com.sg