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Indonesia, Singapore row worsens

Publication Date : 10-02-2014


Tension between Indonesia and Singapore over the naming of an Indonesian Navy ship has risen, with officials from the Defence Ministry cancelling a planned visit to the city-state to attend the Singapore Airshow.

The Defence Ministry made the move following the Singaporean government’s sudden decision to cancel a scheduled bilateral meeting on the two countries’ defence cooperation.

Defence Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Sisriadi Iskandar said on Sunday that the defence attaché at the Singaporean Embassy in Jakarta had conveyed the cancellation of the bilateral meeting via text message on Saturday evening.

“The text said the cancellation was decided after taking into consideration public opinion in Singapore. It doesn’t elaborate on what that opinion is,” Sisriadi said on Sunday.

Sisriadi said that Singapore had also withdrawn the invitation of 100 Indonesian Military (TNI) officers to attend the Singapore Airshow, which is set to kick off at the Changi Exhibition Centre on Tuesday.

“Because of this cancellation, TNI officials, including TNI commander [Gen. Moeldoko], KSAD [Army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Budiman] and KSAU [Air Chief Marshal Ida Bagus Putu Dunia] have decided not to go to the air show,” Sisriadi said.

Singapore’s move to cancel the bilateral talks and withdraw its invitation to the TNI officers came only two days after the Indonesian government turned a deaf ear to its neighbour’s protest over the naming of a warship after two marines who carried out a deadly bombing in the city-state in the 1960s.

The Navy corvette was christened the KRI Usman-Harun 359 in honour of Second Sgt. Usman bin Haji Muhammad Ali and Second Cpl. Harun bin Said, who were executed in Singapore in 1968 after carrying out an Orchard Road bombing that killed three and injured 33.

Indonesia had previously named them national heroes.

Indonesia’s refusal to rename the ship has sparked a public outcry in Singapore, with several of its senior government officials condemning the Indonesian government for tearing open old wounds.

Acting Singapore manpower minister Tan Chuan-Jin called Indonesia’s insistence in keeping the name a sign of disrespect, callousness and insensitivity.

“It is one thing to remember your heroes from your wars of independence, or those who have built your nation. But it is another thing altogether when you celebrate those who had acted in a brutal and cowardly manner. There is nothing heroic about killing innocent civilians,” Tan, a one-star general before he entered politics, wrote on his Facebook page, as reported by Singaporean daily The Strait Times.

Singapore Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing expressed his disappointment over the Indonesian government’s intransigence, which Chan said put bilateral ties at stake.

“I hope the Indonesian leaders will not sacrifice our bilateral relations, so carefully built up, to domestic politics through carelessness,” the former army attaché to Jakarta said.

Both ministries made their public comments following similar concerns raised by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.

The heightened tension between Indonesia and Singapore over the naming of the Navy corvette has prompted national defence forces to heighten their alertness.

On Saturday, commotion was raised after flight safety officers at Batam’s Hang Nadim International Airport said F-16 or F-4 fighters allegedly belonging to the Singaporean military had been detected illegally entering airspace over Batam, Riau Islands province, Friday.

Defence Ministry spokesman Sisriadi, however, denied that the detected aircraft belonged to Singapore. He said the jets belonged to Australia and were on their way to Singapore for the air show.

“Those planes had secured permission to pass through our airspace,” Sisriadi said.

Despite the deleterious effect to bilateral ties, Sisriadi emphasised that Indonesia would not rename the ship.

“Our decision is firm. Indonesia can’t change the name of a warship or a place or anything else given in respect to individuals we consider as heroes because some countries might object to it due to historical considerations. They will forever be our heroes. We hope Singapore understands this,” he said.

Separately, University of Indonesia international law professor Hikmahanto Juwana said Singapore was overreacting.

“The concern expressed by Singapore is inappropriate and will harm the good relations between the two countries,” he said.


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