Jakarta. Indonesia’s top military official brushed off criticism over the naming of a naval vessel after two men responsible for the fatal 1965 bombing of an office tower in Singapore, dismissing recent outcry in the city-state as “not a big deal.”
“Our relationship with Singapore is fine,” Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Moeldoko said on Monday. “The dispute about the naval ship name is only one small hurdle. It’s normal.”
Singaporean officials criticized the decision to name a retrofitted frigate “KRI Usman Harun” as insensitive after the news was reported in the Indonesian daily newspaper Kompas. But the complaints have fallen on deaf ears in Jakarta, where Indonesian officials insisted that the plan will move ahead, calling the two men — Usman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said — national heroes for their roles in the March 10, 1965 Orchard Road bombing.
“Nothing will change,” Moeldoko said. “We decided long ago to take a historical approach when naming [naval vessels]. Some of them are Usman and Harun, [but] we also used Diponegoro and there was never a problem.”
The two marines were declared national heroes after being executed in Singapore for bombing the MacDonald House office tower, killing three and injuring 33 others, in a failed attempt by former President Sukarno to destabilize Singapore — then part of the newly formed nation of Malaysia. Sukarno ordered the military to stage a campaign of “konfrontasi” with the former British colony over the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak, both in Borneo, as part of the Malaysian federation.
The bombing, and subsequent execution of the two men, dealt a serious blow to diplomatic ties between the fledgling city-state and the Republic of Indonesia. Ties were mended in 1973 by a visit by Singapore’s then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to the soldiers’ ceremonial graves in Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, in South Jakarta.
Singapore’s foreign ministry issued a statement last week airing concern over the decision, urging Indonesia to consider ”the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims.”
“The two Indonesian marines were found guilty of the bombing which killed three people and injured 33 others,” the statement read. “Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then-PM Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines.”
The city-state revoked an invitation to 100 members of the TNI to perform at the opening of this year’s Singapore Air Show after Indonesian officials refused to budge on the matter. Singaporean officials also cancelled a planned meeting between top members of the defense ministries in light of the naming controversy.
But Moeldoko said the city-state’s objects held little sway in Jakarta. The capital also plans to name a street after the pair.
“It’s no big deal,” he remarked. “If they want to cancel [the invitations] then please do so.”
Senior Golkar Party politician Hajriyanto Tohari dismissed the criticism outright, explaining that it was best to ignore Singapore’s outrage entirely, according to the state-run Antara News Agency.
“Singapore was indeed outrageous as it does not know that Usman and Harun were Indonesian national heroes,” the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) deputy speaker said, according to Antara.
Chief security minister Djoko Suyanto said he understood Singapore’s concern, but added that he saw no issue with naming a naval vessel after two men convicted of the unprovoked bombing a civilian building. The men, members of the Indonesian armed forces, were merely following orders, Djoko said.
The naming will go ahead as planned, he explained.
This recent diplomatic dustup is the latest to test ties between the neighbors. In the late 1990s, then-Indonesian president B.J. Habbie referred to Singapore as little more than a “little red dot” on the map.
The nations traded more recent barbs last year when thick haze blanketed the city-state from brushfires in Riau, Sumatra. The haze, an annual problem, prompted another wave of condemnations from both sides. JG