Singapore officials canceled a scheduled meeting with visiting Indonesian Deputy Defense Minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin following reports that Jakarta plans to name a naval ship and a street in the capital after two marines who were executed by the city-state for bombing a building there.
Sjafrie said he was informed about the cancellation by the defense attache at the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore.
“The main point of my visit was to meet with the Singaporean second minister of defense. With the cancellation, I also decided to cancel my attendance at the opening of the Singapore Air Show,” Sjafrie said as quoted by Detik.com.
“I have consulted with Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and chief security minister Djoko Suyanto, and they both supported my decision to cancel my visit to Singapore,” he said.
Sjafrie was initially scheduled to meet with his Singaporean counterpart, Chan Chun Sing, who later canceled the meeting in the wake of Indonesia’s reported plans to name a naval ship after national heroes Usman Ali and Harun Said.
The pair were executed in Singapore in 1968 for their role in bombing a Singapore office building in March 1965, killing thee people and injuring 33. They were named national heroes in Indonesia shortly after their execution.
Sjafrie said that in addition to the cancelled meeting, Singapore had also revoked an invitation for 100 Indonesian military personnel to attend the air show.
Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement issued late on Wednesday that Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam had spoken to his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, about the issue.
It said that Shanmugam, who visited Jakarta last week, registered “Singapore’s concerns over the naming of the navy ship and the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims” of the bomb attack.
Kompas reported last Tuesday that the Indonesian Navy was planning to name a recently refitted frigate “KRI Usman Harun,” after the two men.
The attack on March 10, 1965, was part of an effort by then-president Sukarno to stage an armed confrontation against the newly formed federation of Malaysia, which included Singapore.
Sukarno had whipped Indonesia into a fervor in the campaign of “konfrontasi ” to display its objection over the inclusion of the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak in the newly formed federation.
The two marines were members of Indonesia’s Special Operations Corps Command, now the Marine Corps, who had been ordered to infiltrate Singapore.
Singapore acrimoniously split from Malaysia to become an independent country in October 1965, and Indonesia’s armed campaign dissipated a year later following the ousting of Sukarno.
Djoko said that while he understood Singapore’s concern he maintained his stance that Usman and Harun were Indonesian national heroes who were doing the job assigned to them.
Djoko said tensions should have eased following former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s visit to Usman and Harun’s graves in 1973.
Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Sisriadi said the Indonesian delegation to the airshow would not be attending the event following the dispute.
Relations between the two countries hit a low point in the late 1990s after the fall of former dictator Suharto, and his successor B.J. Habibie famously referred to the tiny city-state as a “little red dot” on the map. Ties have improved considerably in recent years under the stewardship of current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.