Ship's name: Shanmugam explains Singapore's stand

A DAY after his Indonesian counterpart said there was no ill will intended in the naming of a navy ship after two marines who set off a bomb here, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam welcomed the overture, but he also delved into the past so as to explain more fully Singapore's stance.

The March 1965 bombing in Orchard Road, during the Confrontation when Indonesia opposed the formation of Malaysia which Singapore was then part of, targeted civilians. This was illegal under international law, the minister stressed.

The marines, Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, were tried in court and hanged in 1968. In the subsequent years, the countries' leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Suharto, made active efforts to improve ties. There was "some closure", said Mr Shanmugam.

Hence, there has to be sensitivity by both nations, to "make sure that it is behind us and not reopen it (the issue)", he added.

That was why Singapore asked Indonesia to reconsider its decision last week, when news broke of the warship's name.

The minister drew the distinction between the naming of a building in Indonesia and a ship, saying the signal is "very different". "The ship sails the seven seas, carrying that message to every land that the ship goes to as it carries that nation's flag."

Hence, in the wake of the spat, it would have been difficult for things to be business as usual, he said. Singapore pulled an invitation to Indonesia's navy chief to this week's Singapore Airshow.

Mr Shanmugam also said the naming could be seen in different ways. At its most benign, it could mean Indonesia had not considered Singapore's sensitivity. The other extreme could be Indonesia glorifies the marines' actions "rather than simply treating them as heroes who carried out their orders".

Still, he said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's remarks that no ill will had been intended were very constructive.

He added: "In that context, it is quite important for us to know that the marines are not being honoured for killing Singaporeans."

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