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Indonesian military chief says 'no apology over ship'
Publication Date : 18-04-2014
Indonesia's Armed Forces Commander, General Moeldoko, has said he did not apologise over the naming of a new navy frigate - the KRI Usman Harun - after two Indonesian marines behind a 1965 bombing in Singapore.
Moeldoko told reporters yesterday that the "apology", made in an interview with Channel NewsAsia (CNA) broadcast on Tuesday, was misinterpreted.
"Saying sorry that the naming of the Usman Harun is our final decision does not mean saying sorry. If things are twisted, that's normal for reporters," he said.
"There was no apology. What I meant was: 'Sorry, the naming of the Usman Harun is our final decision'."
His latest remarks, made to reporters at the Istana ahead of a Cabinet meeting, came as several Indonesian MPs and observers criticised him for saying sorry during the interview. They said it harmed Indonesia's dignity and insulted the memory of marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said.
MP Susaningtyas Kertopati of Parliament's defence committee said the military chief should not have been so quick to apologise to a neighbour.
University of Indonesia international law professor Hikmahanto Juwana called on Moeldoko to clarify his comments, "so that the Indonesian public will not feel betrayed".
Moeldoko had told CNA: "Our decision is to stick to the name, and once again I apologise, we have no ill intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all."
Not long after the interview was aired, a link was posted on Moeldoko's official Facebook page with the explanation: "We apologise over the naming of the ship 'Usman Harun' if Singapore feels hurt, but as a sovereign nation, Indonesia sticks by its decision and will not change the name of the ship. On this matter, both countries have been in constant communication."
He also thanked The Straits Times on Twitter for reporting his comments, saying: "I hope my apology is the first step to further our strong relations with Singapore."
Both posts, however, have been taken down.
Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had on Wednesday welcomed the apology, saying it was "a constructive gesture" to improve bilateral defence ties.
The two marines were convicted of the bombing of MacDonald House in Orchard Road, which killed three civilians and injured 33, during Konfrontasi. They were executed in 1968, sparking tensions with Indonesia, which declared them national heroes.
Indonesia's decision to name a new frigate after them strained bilateral military ties when the news broke in February, with Singapore saying the move would reopen old wounds. It also said the ship would not be allowed to stop at Singapore ports or naval bases.
Indonesia maintained that the naming, decided much earlier, was in line with its tradition of naming ships after heroes and that no ill-will was intended.
Yesterday, Indonesian Armed Forces spokesman Fuad Basya clarified that the apology was misinterpreted as Moeldoko apologising for naming the KRI Usman Harun, when it was meant as an apology for not meeting the demand to reconsider the naming of the warship.
"I reiterate it was not an apology to the Singapore government for naming the warship," he said.