Remembering Konfrontasi

Members of the honour guard from the National Cadet Corps headquarters standing guard, with their heads bowed, at the memorial dedicated to the victims of Konfrontasi, on the 50th anniversary of the attack, at Dhoby Ghaut Green yesterday

Fifty years ago yesterday, Ms Janet Wong was a 20-year-old trainee teacher at Balestier Mixed School when her sister called to say that their mother had been injured in a bomb blast.

By the time she reached Singapore General Hospital, her mother, Madam Elizabeth Suzie Choo, had died from her injuries.

Madam Choo, a secretary, was among the three dead and 33 injured in the worst bomb attack in post-war Singapore when a bomb planted by two Indonesian saboteurs exploded at MacDonald House in Orchard Road.

Till this day, it pains her that she and her mother parted after an argument, Ms Wong said yesterday. "I had a little tiff with her the night before, and I wanted to make peace with her in the morning," she said, her voice quivering. "But it didn't come true."

Ms Wong found solace in another form yesterday evening, on the 50th anniversary of the attack, when she joined 200 other family members of victims, veterans and guests at the unveiling of a memorial to the victims of Konfrontasi at Dhoby Ghaut Green, across from MacDonald House.

The attack on March 10, 1965, was the darkest day of Konfrontasi, or Confrontation, when Indonesia waged an undeclared war to oppose the formation of Malaysia. Singapore was part of the new nation briefly, from 1963 to 1965.

"It was a dark and painful chapter in our history, during which many lives were hurt, damaged and lost. Although it happened five decades ago, we as Singaporeans must never forget this part of our nation's history," said Brigadier-General (NS) Winston Toh, president of the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans League (SAFVL), which organised the memorial service.

"Those turbulent times demonstrated the high price of not having a strong defence, and not being able to protect our nation's sovereignty and security."

Religious leaders from the Inter-Religious Organisation also gathered to hold a prayer at the memorial, where a wreath was laid for victims of Konfrontasi, which included servicemen.

Also at the ceremony was Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who said: "Words cannot repay the debt we owe to these individuals, and to their fellow comrades who had laid down their lives.

"But with our actions, we will keep faith with them and with all that they stand for."

Mr Wong said Singapore today enjoys good relations with its neighbours, but the situation was vastly different in the 1960s.

"It is important to never take our place in the world for granted. Our destiny will be determined by how we respond as a people through good times and bad times, through crisis and prosperity," he said.

Singaporeans were reminded of this episode in history last year, when Indonesia named a frigate, KRI Usman Harun, after the two bombers, who were executed in 1968. Singapore has barred the ship from calling here.

The memorial was built after the SAFVL petitioned Mr Wong last year to find suitable ways to remember the victims of Konfrontasi and educate younger generations about this chapter.

Mr Wong said the memorial "will be a lasting reminder of the victims of Konfrontasi, and those who risked their lives defending our country".

This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
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