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Indonesia, Singapore in row over name of Navy ship

Publication Date : 07-02-2014


The Indonesian government is standing by its decision to name a warship after two marines who carried out a deadly bombing in Singapore in the 1960s, despite protest from the city-state.

Singaporeans’ dark memories of the MacDonald House bombing were reawakened after local media reports emerged on the newly christened KRI Usman-Harun 359, an Indonesian Navy corvette named after Second Sgt. Usman bin Haji Muhammad Ali and Second Cpl. Harun bin Said.

The two marines, who had both been declared national heroes by the Indonesian government, were executed in Singapore in 1968 for carrying out the bombing that killed three and injured 33. The Singaporean government was quick to issue a statement saying that the ship’s name “would have impact on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the [bombing] victims”.

A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday night that Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam had spoken to his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, to express these concerns.

“The two Indonesian marines were found guilty of the bombing, which killed three people and injured 33 others. Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines,” the statement read.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto made it clear on Thursday that the government would not change the name. “There is no need,” he said.

“The Indonesian government has its own rules, procedures and assessment criteria for determining whether to honor a person as a hero. There should be no intervention from other countries.”

Marty confirmed that the Singaporean government had registered its complaint. “We have taken note of their concerns and that, I think, is enough to settle everything.”

The row broke the surface only one day after Shanmugam concluded a two-day visit to Indonesia to attend a regular bilateral meeting with Marty.

Usman, whose real name was Janatin, and Harun, whose real name was Tohir bin Mandar, were marines tasked to infiltrate Singapore during the confrontation with newly independent Malaysia.

Then president Sukarno had opposed the formation of Malaysia — of which Singapore was a part from September 1963 to August 1965 — declaring the country a British puppet state.

KRI Usman-Harun 359 is one of three British-made corvettes expected to enter service in June, pending the commissioning process in the UK.

The other two ships are the KRI Bung Tomo 357, after Sutomo, the leader of a resistance against the Allied forces in Surabaya, East Java, in 1945; and KRI John Lie 358. Rear Adm. Lie, who later changed his name to Jahja Daniel Dharma, was a Chinese-Indonesian who smuggled weapons across the Strait of Malacca to arm Indonesian freedom fighters against the Dutch.

Navy chief spokesman Cmdr. Untung Surapati said that the decision to name the ships after the heroes was the result of long deliberation.

“Basically, any national hero has the potential to be immortalized on a TNI [Indonesian Military] ship. The TNI proposed the names to a team consisting of officials from the TNI and the Defense Ministry, which then made the assessment.”

He added that combat ships were usually named after national heroes, such as Diponegoro, Yos Sudarso and Ahmad Yani.

Untung also said that the Jakarta municipal administration had considered naming one of the capital’s main streets after Usman and Harun.

After being hanged to death, their remains were taken back to Indonesia. Former president Soeharto awarded the two national hero status with a state funeral at the Kalibata National Heroes Cemetery in South Jakarta.


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