Naming of Indonesia warship

Indonesian MPs, officers dismiss S'pore's objections

SINGAPORE'S objections to the naming of a new Indonesian naval frigate KRI Usman Harun were widely reported online in Indonesia, but brushed off by officers in the Indonesian military and MPs, who said a change of heart would imply weakness.

Indonesian Navy spokesman First Admiral Untung Suropati told Tempo.co news website: "They can go ahead and object - we are convinced the marines are heroes who should be emulated."

Indonesian Democratic Party- Struggle (PDI-P) MP Tubagus Hasanuddin told reporters that the government should reject any effort to rename the ship.

"Don't be weak. If we change, it means downgrading Usman and Harun to non-hero status," the former major-general said. "It means we bend to Singapore's will. To me, that is not right."

Dr Terence Lee of the National University of Singapore said that from Indonesia's point of view, "it's perfectly all right and normal to name ships after heroes of the nation".

The marines were made heroes and buried at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta after their execution.

Associate Professor Leonard Sebastian, who coordinates the Indonesia programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said bilateral ties would not be affected.

"Both sides know what the issues are," he said.

In Singapore's view, he said, the marines committed a heinous act, and were tried and executed according to the law for acts of terrorism against non-combatants.

The Indonesians, he said, considered themselves at war with Malaysia at the time because of the Confrontation, and the marines were carrying out what they considered their duty.

He said: "In that regard, Indonesia named the ship in honour of soldiers considered heroes in doing their duty."

Assoc Prof Sebastian feels the two sides will agree to disagree and move on. "All countries have different interpretations of history - the issue is how well it is managed between the two countries," he said.

Singaporeans criticised the naming of the ship as insensitive and unfriendly.

As one netizen pointed out: "We do hope they reconsider their choices - imagine when we have joint naval exercises, and these ships are involved."

But some felt both countries had valid viewpoints.

Netizen Keehan Tey wrote on The Straits Times website: "They were lowly soldiers acting under orders and died for their country. It is for Indonesia to honour them... Obviously, Singapore and Indonesia have different views about the significance of the Confrontation."

Some urged fellow Singaporeans to take things in perspective, noting that the two countries now enjoy good relations.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

yuenc@sph.com.sg