Episode of warship naming far from dead

Episode of warship naming far from dead

SINGAPORE - Maybe it was a cheap shot directed at unsettling Singapore.

Maybe it was another example of Indonesian behaviour that should be seen at face value with no ill intent, no ill will and no malice intended.

Or it may have been staged because Indonesia's Korps Marinir (Marine Corps) simply has absolutely no other national heroes in its long history.

Whatever the case, Indonesia's decision to have two of its marines walk side by side, dressed up in 1960s-era uniforms this past week emblazoned with the names "Usman" and "Harun" indicates that the Usman-Harun warship naming episode is, quite literally in this instance, far from dead.

The act of bringing the duo back to life caught the attention of Indonesia's press, who photographed the re-enactors at the Indonesian navy booth at the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue.

This event, held last week at the Jakarta Convention Centre, attracted a global audience, many of whom saw a model of the warship named KRI Usman Harun alongside the marines.

Coming so close on the heels of the atmospherics over Jakarta's decision to name a new warship after two Indonesian marines convicted and hanged in Singapore for murdering civilians during the March 10, 1965 MacDonald House bombing, the picture was understandably newsworthy.

More than anything, that single image published by Tempo magazine says succinctly - in far less than a thousand words - that the twin ghosts of insensitivity and disrespect that haunt Indonesia- Singapore defence relations have yet to be exorcised.

The lack of sensitivity that plunged defence dealings between ASEAN's largest and smallest members into deep freeze is an unfortunate and recent phenomenon.

If you visit the National Museum in downtown Jakarta, you will find an exhibit on the MacDonald House bombing which tells Indonesia's perspective of a dark episode in Indonesia-Singapore relations that claimed three civilian lives and injured many other civilians.

Blood was shed - pointlessly and without warning - after the marines bombed the office building during Konfrontasi, the undeclared war with Malaysia, which Singapore was then part of.

Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said were convicted and hanged for murder in 1968, but were feted as heroes when their bodies were flown back to Jakarta.

Bilateral ties went into limbo until 1973, when then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesian President Suharto agreed that it was time to move on. Accepting the advice from Singapore's then Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Lee Khoon Choy, former PM Lee sprinkled flower petals on the graves of the two marines as a gesture that ties should move forward.

The MacDonald House bombing has, nonetheless, been recognised by generations of Indonesian leaders in the political and defence spheres as a sensitive episode best left in the past. Why?

It remains tender ground because heralding one's perspective on this issue would inevitably affect the feelings and sensitivities of the other neighbour. The individuals hailed by Indonesia as heroes for following orders are viewed by Singapore as murderous terrorists.

If Korps Marinir re-enactors want to be historically accurate, their caricatures of Usman and Harun should have worn civilian attire. This was how the two dressed during their cowardly attack on a non-military target during an undeclared war.

In the eyes of civilised nations, this is an undeniable act of terrorism. It is a big deal when a neighbour openly celebrates such blood lust as there is nothing to suggest history would not repeat itself.

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