JAKARTA: The Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces has apologised over the naming of an Indonesian warship after two marines who carried out the bombing of MacDonald House in Singapore in 1965.
General Moeldoko told Channel NewsAsia that the Indonesian military had meant no ill-will, and had not intended to stir up emotions in Singapore.
He said the episode has been a learning process, and he is confident that future ties between the two militaries would grow even stronger.
General Moeldoko said: “Once again I apologise. We have no ill intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all. Second, relations between the two countries are on the mend. There have been communications among leaders. Singapore’s Chief of Defence and I have spoken.”
However, General Moeldoko stressed that the name of the frigate ‘Usman Harun’ will remain — a decision he said the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) had made in December 2012 after a long process.
Usman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said were the two marines who had bombed MacDonald House in Singapore in 1965, as part of former president Sukarno’s Konfrontasi campaign.
Three people were killed and 33 injured in the attack.
General Moeldoko said the TNI had not foreseen that the naming of the warship would spark an emotional reaction from Singapore.
General Moeldoko said: “Indonesia didn’t think that ‘Usman Harun’ would eventually turn into a polemic such as this. Why? It’s because from the onset we did not have the tendency to stir emotions of the past. Not at all. However there are sensitivities that we did not foresee and it escalated. It is my responsibility as the Commander-in-Chief of the TNI to offer clarification and to take steps to ensure that the situation does not escalate.”
The naming of the ship created a diplomatic row between the two countries in February.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa had assured Singapore that Jakarta meant no ill will or malice — a move which was welcomed by his Singapore counterpart K Shanmugam.
But in March, Indonesian marines dressed as Usman and Harun were spotted at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue.
It prompted the Singapore delegation to withdraw from the event.
General Moeldoko said he had since taken steps to de-escalate the situation and normalise ties between TNI and the Singapore Armed Forces, including inviting Singapore to take part in a multilateral exercise earlier this year.
General Moeldoko said: “We gave the opportunity to our Singaporean counterparts to join 17 other countries in the Komodo Exercise. To me it was a very positive step by us towards rebuilding ties.”
He is confident that ties between the two armed forces will continue to be strong, and based on mutual trust, respect and honesty.
General Moeldoko said: “As long as we are able to maintain trust and honesty between us, I believe relations can proceed well. I am confident future prospects will be good because we are part of an ASEAN community that has common needs, common interests that I believe makes it easier for strong ties to be rebuilt.”
It is the clearest admission thus far by the Indonesian military — coming from none other than its Commander-in-Chief — that the Indonesian military had misread the gravity of the impact the naming of the frigate would have on its relations with Singapore.
As General Moeldoko said, it is a learning process towards building even stronger ties between the two immediate neighbours — and in particular the two armed forces — that have forged close cooperation over the years.