Naming caused dismay in Singapore

Combination photo of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (L), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (C) and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam (R). The Singapore ministers are asking Indonesia to consider the feelings of Singaporeans in its decision to name a Navy ship after the Indonesian marines who bombed an Orchard Road building in 1965.

Indonesia's decision to name a new British-made frigate KRI Usman Harun, after two men tried and hanged for a 1965 Orchard Road bombing that left three people dead and 33 injured, prompted five Singapore ministers to raise concerns about the move.

The decision to name the vessel after marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said would reopen old wounds and leave Singaporeans wondering what message Indonesia was trying to send, they said.

In response, Indonesian ministers and senior military officials said the decision was in line with their practice of naming certain ships after national heroes, a status their government had conferred on the two men after their hanging in 1968.

The Indonesian officials said they had not intended to cause offence, but would stick by their decision. Singaporeans generally expressed dismay at the decision to keep the name, but several Indonesian MPs have made light of this.

Indonesia said on Saturday the ship will be part of the navy's Eastern Fleet which is based in Surabaya, but could be deployed elsewhere in Indonesian waters.

The marines' bombing of MacDonald House occurred during Konfrontasi, the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation that took place from 1963 to 1966, and was the worst of 37 attacks in Singapore by Indonesian saboteurs then.

Indonesia's then President Sukarno had opposed the formation of Malaysia, which had included Singapore.

Bilateral ties remained tense for years after the incident.

In 1973, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sprinkled flowers on the graves of the two marines on a visit to Jakarta, enabling the countries to put the issue behind them and move on to build close ties.

The recent episode threatens to affect those ties, with Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing saying on Friday that Indonesian leaders' statements in recent days "reflected either a lack of sensitivity, a lack of care for the bilateral ties, or both".


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