Marty Assuages Singapore Over Relations

An Indonesian vessel patrols in waters along Bali’s new toll road, built in time for the 2013 APEC summit, in Bali on September 27, 2013. The Indonesian navy’s decision to name a vessel after bombers who attacked a building in Singapore in 1965 has caused tensions with the city-state. (AFP Photo/Sonny Tumbelaka)

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says Indonesia owes no explanation to Singapore for a decision to name a Navy vessel after two marines who were executed for bombing an office building in the city-state in 1965, but insists that Jakarta is not trying to instigate tensions.

“There has never been a plan to send [a letter of explanation] to Singapore,” Marty said at the State Palace on Tuesday. “The decision on naming our ship was based on prevailing procedures.”

The revelation last week that the Navy plans to name a retrofitted frigate “KRI Usman Harun” has stoked concern in Singapore, with the country’s foreign ministry calling in a statement last week for Indonesia to rethink the decision.

The ship will be named for Usman Ali and Harun Said, who were involved in the bombing of an office tower in Singapore on March 10, 1965, for which they were executed by Singapore on Oct. 17 that year and named national heroes by Jakarta the very same day.

Marty said Indonesia had noted Singapore’s concerns but stressed that the naming of the ship was not meant to raise any hackles with the near neighbor.

“Indonesia and Singapore are neighbors who share common interests with mutual respect and understanding,” the minister said. “We’ve been creating this dynamic relationship for many years. So there’s no intention to be hostile with one another. I am certain Singapore will understand our approach, and we will continue to communicate with each other.”

Three people were killed and 33 injured in the attack in Singapore, which was ordered by then-president Sukarno as part of his policy of “konfrontasi” against the then newly formed federation of Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part.

The bombing and subsequent execution of the two perpetrators dealt a serious blow to diplomatic ties between Jakarta and Singapore, which were only mended in 1973 by a visit by Singapore’s then-prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, to the soldiers’ ceremonial graves at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta.

Marty’s reassurances on Tuesday that ties would not be strained by the naming controversy echoed similar statements a day earlier by Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who said that bilateral relations were “going quite well so far and there are no issues.”

“Singapore’s geographical position will never change,” he said in Jakarta as quoted by “As neighbors, conflicts will continue to be there. What’s most important is for the two nations to achieve understanding.”

Separately, Gen. Moeldoko, the Indonesian Military (TNI) commander, confirmed on Tuesday that he had scrapped a planned visit to the Singapore Air Show after an invitation to 100 TNI personnel had their invitation rescinded at the last moment in the wake of the ship-naming spat.

He said he had received a phone call from a Singaporean official upset about the issue and notifying him that the invitation had been withdrawn.

“So I decided I wouldn’t go either,” Moeldoko said. “What would be the point of me going if my men weren’t going too?”

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