Indonesia 'meant no ill will' in naming of ship

INDONESIA'S Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa stressed that his country meant no ill will or malice when it decided to name a new frigate KRI Usman Harun after two marines behind a 1965 bombing in Orchard Road that killed three and injured 33.

"No ill intent was meant, no malice, no unfriendly outlook," he said repeatedly in a hastily convened interview with Singapore media. Jakarta took the recent expressions of concern from Singapore "very seriously", he added.

"Indonesia really values its relationship with Singapore in all its dimensions, and we are very keen to continue on that track."

Dr Marty's conciliatory comments are an attempt by Jakarta to defuse tensions that have dominated headlines over the past week, and come a day after Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and Indonesian Armed Forces chief Moeldoko sought to downplay the row.

Officials have also kept President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono abreast of the developments, and have sought his guidance, he added.

The issue surfaced last Wednesday, when Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam phoned Dr Marty to raise concerns about a newspaper report stating that the Indonesian Navy would name a new vessel after marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, who were convicted and hanged for attacks which killed civilians in Singapore in 1968.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also called their counterparts, who maintained that the duo had been declared national heroes after their deaths and that the navy traditionally named ships after the country's heroes.

The matter escalated over the weekend, when Singapore cancelled invitations for 100 officers to the Singapore Airshow, as well as a planned meeting. Top defence officials, including General Moeldoko, then cancelled their scheduled visits to Singapore.

Dr Marty said on Tuesday that from Indonesia's perspective, the issue of the marines' attack had been closed in 1973, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the graves of the men in a symbolic gesture that repaired frayed ties.

Dr Marty said officials felt naming the ship after the marines would not cause a furore as that chapter was closed.

"The impression or the view was, perhaps, this is no longer a sensitive matter. But obviously, it still is, from Singapore's side," he said. "That sensitivity has been registered, and we are aware of it. At the same time, we are keen to ensure there is a sense of mutual respect... and we can both move forward."

Dr Marty added that Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had sent Indonesia a note to register its position and concerns. He planned to reply soon, to underscore Indonesia's resolve and commitment to manage the issue and continue developing bilateral ties.

"The recent episode of the past one week reminds us that while relations are very strong and very close, we need to constantly nurture this relationship and ensure there are no unintended complications that arise from decisions made from whichever side," he added. And this, he said, meant being able to "put ourselves in the other's shoes to empathise".

He disagreed that the current tensions were a "spat", citing a ministerial meeting held in Singapore yesterday between the two sides to boost economic links.

"There has been some misunderstanding and a communication gap," Dr Marty said.

"Let us now let the dust settle and move forward."

In Singapore, the Defence Ministry said in response to media queries that parliamentary questions about the matter have been filed. "Minister for Defence will address these issues in Parliament next week," said the ministry's spokesman Kenneth Liow.

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