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S'pore marines act part of a 'campaign of terror': minister
Publication Date : 13-02-2014
Singapore opposes Indonesia's decision to name a ship after two marines who set off a bomb here in 1965, as it sends the wrong message about a painful period in the two countries' history that both had agreed to leave behind.
Their act targeted civilians and was part of a "campaign of terror" during the Confrontation, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters on Wednesday.
Marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said had posed as civilians to plant a bomb at MacDonald House on Orchard Road, killing three people and injuring 33.
The incident took place at a time when Indonesia opposed the newly formed Malaysia, which Singapore was then a part of.
The bombing on March 10 was part of a spate of attacks that included hits on schools and other civil institutions using saboteurs, and which saw bombs planted across the island.
The marines were eventually tried and hanged here in 1968, but given a full military burial and recognised as heroes in Indonesia.
Indonesia has a sovereign right to name the ship as it chooses, Shanmugam acknowledged, but the decision can have an impact on other countries.
In this case, it "intersects with a part of our mutual history", and the mutual decision to put that history behind us, he said.
As such, both countries have to be sensitive about the issue, to "make sure that it is behind us and not reopen it".
Singapore has hence asked Indonesia to reconsider the decision to name the vessel KRI Usman Harun, he said.
It is one thing to name a building in Indonesia after the men or bury them in the heroes' cemetery, but quite another to name a warship after them, said Shanmugam.
"The signal would be very different because the ship sails the seven seas, carrying that message to every land that the ship goes to as it carries that nation's flag.
What is that message?"
The minister also set out why it was necessary for Singapore to hang the two men, after they were tried in court. The government could not have answered to the families of the victims if they had been set free, he said.
Doing so would also have set a precedent for Singapore's relationship with bigger countries, he added - that the republic will, or should, do what a bigger country asks, even when it has been "grievously hurt".
That would be a different concept of sovereignty, he said, and added that the incident was a defining moment for Singapore's foreign policy. "Almost every country that deals with us would be bigger than us. So, we decided that that is not good for us."
It was not an easy decision, as the British forces were withdrawing in two years.
But then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stood firm, despite Singapore's almost non-existent defence capability at that time, Shanmugam said, recalling also that the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta was sacked.
But Singapore was also "balanced" in its approach, the minister pointed out.
The Confrontation had ended by the time Suharto took over from Sukarno in 1967, and Singapore was then seeking to forge a new relationship with Indonesia.
Jakarta asked for the two, as well as others, to be released.
Singapore released 45 people, including two men who had been sentenced to death for setting off another bomb, though there were no deaths that time.
"We took into account the relationship... and so we pardoned those two because no one had died in that particular explosion."
Both countries also put aside the events of the Confrontation, with then President Suharto and Mr Lee making a special effort to build ties.
"Today, if you look at the relationship, it is excellent, it is mutually beneficial," Shanmugam said. Singapore was Indonesia's second-largest investor last year, and both countries have regular consultations.
"We keep taking steps to strengthen our relationship, keep the momentum, because Indonesia and Singapore have to live together. Indonesia has really provided the stability that has allowed the entire region to prosper," he said.