Three Singapore ministers have responded to Indonesia’s decision to name a Navy ship after the Indonesian marines who bombed an Orchard Road building in 1965, leaving three people dead and 33 people injured.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday joined Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in asking Indonesia to consider the feelings of Singaporeans, saying naming the ship after the two men who were hanged in Singapore for their actions would reopen old wounds and leave Singaporeans asking what message Indonesia was trying to send.
But Indonesian leaders said marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said were considered heroes and there would be no changing the plan to name the navy frigate the KRI Usman Harun.
Singaporeans reacting to the news yesterday said the naming was insensitive and unfriendly, but many Indonesians defended their country’s right to honour the two men.
The March10 attack on MacDonald House happened at the height of Indonesia’s Confrontation against newly formed Malaysia, which then included Singapore. The marines were convicted and executed in 1968, but were given a ceremonial burial by Jakarta.
Indonesia’s Kompas newspaper reported this week that a new British-made frigate would be named after the two men, in line with the practice of naming ships after heroes.
Mr Shanmugam was first to register his concerns with his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Marty Natalegawa, on Wednesday. Yesterday, Mr Teo and Dr Ng called their counterparts too, and reinforced a point made by Mr Shanmugam earlier.
“DPM Teo and Dr Ng, on behalf of the Singapore Government, respectfully asked that Indonesia takes into account the feelings of the victims and their families, and the implications and consequences, when making their decision whether to name the warship after the two marines,” said Mr Teo’s press secretary, Mr Yap Neng Jye.
“We initiated the phone calls to express our concerns because we value the good relations we have with Indonesia.”
Mr Teo and Dr Ng conveyed Singapore’s view that the bombing “was a wrong and grievous attack on civilians in Singapore resulting in deaths and injuries”.
Mr Yap said: “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.
“The naming of the Indonesian warship after the two marines who carried out the bombing would reopen 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.”
Mr Natalegawa made clear yesterday the ship’s name would not be changed.
“Why should it be that way? It is sufficient for us to record the Singapore Government’s concern,” he said inside the Parliament building. “I just conveyed to the Singapore Government that we have recorded their concern and I reckoned the issue has been settled.”
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said this was a matter on which “there can be no intervention from other countries”.
Last year, there was a move to rename a street near the Marine Corps headquarters in central Jakarta Jalan Usman Harun, a change navy spokesman Untung Suropati said was imminent.