THE BOMBERS

Renewed media interest in MacDonald House bombers' graves after furore

About 100m from the entrance of the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, plots 50 and 51 look no different from the 9,500 graves in this sprawling complex. But they have seen more visitors than the rest in the last 10 days.

Mention "Osman" and "Harun", and Pak Mudji guides you through the maze of graves, each with a metallic silver helmet at the foot of the gravestone, symbolising heroic status. "I only found out where they are buried recently, when a lot of people began asking to see the graves," said the cleaner, who has worked there for 30 years.

Indonesian marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, convicted and hanged in Singapore in 1968 for bombing MacDonald House in 1965, are buried there.

Osman, 25, and Harun, 21, were declared national heroes and given final resting places in the 25ha heroes' cemetery. Their simple headstones state their names, ranks and dates of birth and death.

The recent row between Singapore and Indonesia over Jakarta's plan to name a naval warship after the two men prompted renewed media interest in Indonesia in the long-forgotten marines.

Cemetery caretaker Agus Hadipurnomo told The Sunday Times: "We've certainly seen a lot more visitors asking about their graves, but almost all are journalists. Before this, only their families visited."

The two men were so little known that hardly anyone noticed the decision last May to rename Central Jakarta's Jalan Prapatan as Jalan Usman Harun, based on the navy's recommendation in November 2012. "No one has objected so far," Jakarta governor Joko Widodo told reporters.

A series of inner roads around a military complex in East Jakarta are already named after the two men.

Back in their home towns, their family members did not know about the warship at first.

"I see it as part of a tribute to these two men who died in Singapore while serving their country," Madam Siti Rodiah, 75, Osman's older sister, was quoted saying in Tempo.

Plans to build a museum in his name at her Tawangsari village, in the Purbalingga sub-district of Central Java, have been delayed. The Usman Janatin City Park, which includes an entertainment centre, is abandoned and undergoing a revamp.

In the East Java village of Bawean, there is no trace of where Harun used to live. His sister, Madam Aisyah, 70, told detik.com that Harun left for Jakarta in his early teens to look for work and lost touch with the family.

Born to farmers, Harun had four siblings, of whom two remain - Madam Aisyah and a brother, Mr Nawawi.

The family learnt that he had joined the military only when he was about to be executed, and were in shock at his burial. His nephew, Mr Salim, said: "After that, my grandmother banned anyone in the family from joining the army. She was traumatised."

zubaidah@sph.com.sg