Indonesia 'regrets' lookalike marines act

Indonesian soldiers posed for photos with the lookalikes of marines Usman and Harun at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue exhibition in Jakarta. -- PHOTO: TEMPO
Indonesian soldiers posed for photos with the lookalikes of marines Usman and Harun at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue exhibition in Jakarta. -- PHOTO: TEMPO

INDONESIA'S Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mr Djoko Suyanto, has telephoned Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to express regret over the incident in which two Indonesian marines posed as the MacDonald House bombers at an international defence conference in Jakarta this week.

Mr Djoko expressed regret over the inappropriate conduct by the soldiers, and assured Mr Teo that there was no such policy to do this, Mr Teo's office said on Friday in reply to media queries.

Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro also telephoned Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen Friday afternoon to express the same views.

Dr Purnomo added that the Indonesian navy chief, Admiral Marsetio, had launched investigations to determine who was responsible for this inappropriate act, Mr Teo's office said.

"Both DPM Teo and Dr Ng thanked their counterparts for this important clarification," his office added. "They reiterated that the naming of the ship had reopened old wounds because innocent Singaporeans were killed and injured in the bombing, and said that it would be helpful if this were recognised."

This development came as Dr Purnomo told reporters that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had demanded to know who made the decision to get two lookalikes to pose as the marines at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue.

Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) spokesman Brigadier-General Sisriadi added in a statement that the incident "should not have happened".

"It is deeply regrettable and counter-productive to the aims of the multilateral dialogue attended by delegates from 46 countries," he said.

A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman on Thursday night expressed concern and disappointment over the incident, saying it happened at "an international event to which Singapore was invited as a guest".

The two lookalikes had worn marine uniforms from the 1960s with "Usman" and "Harun" on the badges, after Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, the Indonesian marines who were convicted and executed in Singapore in 1968 for the bombing that left three civilians dead and injured 33 others.

The duo were declared heroes by their country and given a military burial at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery.

The attack happened during Konfrontasi, when then President Sukarno sent armed men to infiltrate newly formed Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part.

Indonesia's decision to name a new naval frigate KRI Usman Harun drew protests from Singapore last month and strained bilateral ties.

Singapore ministers contacted their counterparts to say the move would reopen old wounds, but Indonesian officials maintained that it was in line with navy tradition of naming ships after the country's heroes, and that no ill will was intended.

As a result of the latest incident, the Singapore Armed Forces delegation at the two-day conference withdrew from the event after its opening by Vice-President Boediono on Wednesday and returned to Singapore.

Singapore Embassy officials in Jakarta also conveyed their disappointment to Indonesia's Foreign Ministry and military.

The MFA spokesman had said the posing of the two marines did not reflect the spirit of Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's comments last month that no ill will or malice was intended towards Singapore.

Indonesian media reports had said a number of officers and guests took turns taking photos with the two lookalikes, and reported the duo as saying they had been ordered by their superiors to pose as the dead marines.

The models were told to stand down on Wednesday afternoon.

But in remarks to Agence France-Presse earlier yesterday, chief navy spokesman Untung Suropati said they were a hit.

"We gathered up the most beautiful female navy officers for our booth but, unbelievably, visitors were more attracted to Usman and Harun. Their faces were not even that handsome," he said.

He added that the navy had initially wanted to use mannequins to represent the marines, but a sample of the faces was "too feminine".

Dr Purnomo told reporters yesterday the incident was clearly inappropriate.

During their phone conversation yesterday, both Mr Teo and Mr Djoko expressed their common desire to continue working together to have good bilateral relations, Mr Teo's office said.

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