Jakarta's move 'reflects disrespect': Singapore ministers

Two more Singapore ministers criticise naming of Indonesian Navy ship

The warship KRI Usman Harun (right) with other new Indonesian Navy frigates at a shipyard in Britain. Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that ''there is nothing heroic about killing innocent civilians''. -- PHOTO: INDONESIAN NAVY
The warship KRI Usman Harun (right) with other new Indonesian Navy frigates at a shipyard in Britain. Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that ''there is nothing heroic about killing innocent civilians''. -- PHOTO: INDONESIAN NAVY

Two Cabinet ministers with military backgrounds took issue yesterday with Indonesia's decision to name a navy ship after two marines who bombed an Orchard Road building in 1965.

In separate Facebook posts, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said it reflected disrespect, callousness and insensitivity.

Mr Tan, a one-star general before he entered politics, wrote in a Facebook post: "It is one thing to remember your heroes from your wars of independence, or those who have built your nation.

"But it is another thing altogether when you celebrate those who had acted in a brutal and cowardly manner. There is nothing heroic about killing innocent civilians."

He also disclosed that his father had worked in MacDonald House where the bomb went off, but was on medical leave on that fateful day, March 10, 1965.

Acknowledging Indonesia's insistence on its right to name the vessel as it sees fit, he added: "But it is also our right to state categorically that this very act reflects callousness and disrespect."

Mr Chan, a former chief of army, said Indonesian leaders' statements had "reflected either a lack of sensitivity, a lack of care for the bilateral ties, or both".

Bilateral relations had been carefully built up over the years, he added.

He expressed hope that the new generation of Indonesian leaders would display "similar wisdom and leadership to put the bilateral ties foremost in all that we do", like their predecessors.

Recalling his two-year stint in Jakarta as the army attache, Mr Chan added that Indonesians have shown that they are able to appreciate the "fine sensitivities of a relationship".

"I am thus disappointed with this episode. I hope the Indonesian leaders will not sacrifice our bilateral relations, so carefully built up, to domestic politics or through carelessness."

Mr Tan and Mr Chan's comments followed those of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam on Thursday. They said naming the ship after the two men would reopen old wounds, and leave Singaporeans asking what message Indonesia was trying to send.

The bombing, which killed three people and injured 33, took place at the peak of Indonesia's Confrontation. The marines were caught and hanged in Singapore in 1968, but were given a full military burial by Jakarta.

Former senior minister of state for foreign affairs Lee Khoon Choy, too, said yesterday that the naming of the ship in honour of marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said was a "foolish" move.

"They could have named a building in Jakarta after the two. But a ship travels to other countries and if others see the names of terrorists, it can be seen as Indonesia not having given up its aggressive motives," said Mr Lee, who was Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia from 1970 to 1974.

He added that the move could also be viewed as Indonesia "still honouring terrorism".

What the two marines did was clearly an act of terror, said Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs, and academic Brian Farrell.

Referring to the Geneva Convention - which sets out the parameters of international law in conflict and seeks to protect those not taking part in hostilities - Dr Lim said that even in war, to send non-uniformed marines to another country to harm civilians is "not acceptable internationally".

He added: "You should be targeting military, rather than civilian, targets. To aim at civilian targets is not conforming to international law."

Professor Farrell, a military historian who has published extensively on the Confrontation, said the legal foundations for Singapore's execution of the men were "crystal clear" as well.

The National University of Singapore don added: "Indonesia was completely in the legal wrong to use violence against Malaysia and Singapore, in Malaysia and Singapore, without any formal declaration of war."


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