Dr Ng welcomes apology over naming of ship

Dr Ng welcomes apology over naming of ship

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday welcomed the apology from Indonesia's armed forces commander over the naming of a warship after two marines guilty of the 1965 MacDonald House bombing.

The incident in Orchard Road during the period of Konfrontasi killed three civilians and injured 33.

Dr Ng said General Moeldoko's apology on Monday was "a constructive gesture" to improve bilateral defence ties between the two nations.

He added that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would "reciprocate (his) positive intentions" by resuming cooperation and activities with the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).

This would strengthen ties and friendship "built up over many decades", he said.

Gen Moeldoko had said in an interview with Channel News Asia: "We have no intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all... I apologise."

His apology was the first by an Indonesian military official. However, he said that the ship's name - the KRI Usman Harun - will stay.

Relations between the two countries were strained after Indonesia decided to name the frigate after Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said.

The marines bombed MacDonald House at a time when Indonesia sent armed men to infiltrate the newly formed Malaysia, which then included Singapore. They were convicted and executed here in 1968. Indonesia went on to declare them heroes and to bury them with full military honours.

The ship-naming drew protests from Singapore. The episode reopened "old wounds", Dr Ng said in February. He added in Parliament: "Even without ill intent, how can the naming of the ship after the two bombers build good ties, or enhance mutual respect and regard with both our countries?"

Earlier in the month, top Indonesian defence officials pulled out of the Singapore Airshow. Singapore's Defence Ministry did not deny rescinding their invitations.

Last month, two marines posed as the bombers at an international defence conference in Jakarta, causing the SAF to withdraw its delegation.

Gen Moeldoko, the TNI Commander-in-Chief since last September, also said in his interview on Monday that it was his responsibility to "ensure that the situation does not escalate".

The next day, he thanked The Straits Times on Twitter for tweeting the article carrying his apology. He wrote: "I hope my apology is the first step to further our strong relations with Singapore."

davidee@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 17 in The Straits Times.

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