Indonesia minister defends move to name warship after marines behind Singapore bombing

JAKARTA - A senior Indonesian minister has defended his country's decision to name a new warship after two Indonesian marines behind a 1965 bombing in Singapore.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said Indonesia had considered the issue "in a mature way" and "there can be no intervention from other countries".

Mr Djoko spoke to Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday afternoon to put across Indonesia's position on the matter, Mr Djoko's deputy Agus Barnas told The Straits Times.

"The Indonesian Navy has the authority and had considered in a mature way the paying of tribute to its heroes, so they are immortalised on a number of Indonesian warships, like the names of other heroes," he said.

"The Indonesian government has its rules, procedures and criteria for determining whether to honour a person as a hero. And in this area, there can be no intervention from other countries," he added.

"The fact that there is a different perception of Indonesian government policy by other countries, in this instance, Singapore, cannot make us backtrack or uncertain about carrying on with our policy decision and implementing it."

Besides DPM Teo, Singapore's Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen had also spoken to his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro on Thursday.

"We initiated the phone calls to express our concerns because we value the good relations we have with Indonesia," said DPM Teo's press secretary.

He said both the Singapore leaders conveyed the city state's perspective that the bombing at MacDonald House in 1965 was a "wrong and grievous attack on civilians in Singapore resulting in deaths and injuries".

"The matter had been closed in May 1973 when then-PM Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the graves of the two marines. After this, both countries have put the issue behind us and moved on to build the close ties we now enjoy,'' said the press secretary.

"However, the naming of the Indonesian warship after the two marines who carried out the bombing would re-open old wounds, not just among the victims and their families, but also for the Singapore public. Singaporeans would ask what message Indonesia is trying to send by naming its warship in this manner.''

The press secretary added that DPM Teo and Dr Ng asked that Indonesia takes into account the feelings of the victims and their families, as well as the implications and consequences.

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.

They were members of Indonesia's special Operations Corps Command, which is today the Marine Corps, and had been tasked with infiltrating Singapore during Indonesia's Confrontation against 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. The attack killed three and injured 33 others.

The marines were given national hero status and a ceremonial funeral at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta.

On Wednesday night, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam had spoken to his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Marty Natalegawa, to register Singapore's concerns over Indonesia's decision. He also conveyed Singapore's concern about "the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims".

The comments were widely reproduced by Indonesian media online on Wednesday.

The hanging of the two marines in 1968 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.

Relations were restored when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited Jakarta in 1973, and scattered flowers on their graves.

On Thursday, Mr Agus, deputy to Mr Djoko, noted the fact that Mr Lee had laid flowers, saying: "There should not be any more problems over this issue."

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