Singapore will bar an Indonesian warship named after marines who bombed a building on the island in 1965 from calling at its ports and naval bases or taking part in joint military exercises, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
“The naming of this ship will have consequences on bilateral relations,” Ng said in Parliament today. “Already, suspicions and resentments have heightened on both sides, setting back many decades of relationship-building and defense ties.”
Indonesia’s top army officials skipped the Singapore Airshow earlier this month as tensions escalated between the two nations after Indonesia stood by its decision to name the warship Usman-Harun. Indonesia has assured Singapore that no ill will or malice was intended, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia last week.
Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam today said he took Natalegawa at his word, and the Indonesian marines are not being honored for killing Singaporeans.
“We have a strong bilateral relationship and we also cooperate closely in Asean, where our interests converge on many issues,” Shanmugam told Parliament, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “We therefore hope that it will be possible for us to maintain and strengthen this friendship and cooperation.”
The marines, Osman Hj Mohd Ali and Harun Said, were convicted and executed in Singapore for the March 1965 bombing of the MacDonald House building in the city’s downtown that killed three people and injured 33, according to Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. The explosion took place during the Indonesian confrontation, when Singapore was part of Malaysia, and Indonesian President Sukarno targeted Malaysia as a “neo-colonialist puppet state,” according to information from the Singapore National Library.
Singapore restored bilateral ties and considered the chapter closed in 1973 when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited the graves of the two marines and scattered flowers, according to the ministry.
The wrangling over the warship’s name underscores relations between two neighbors that have been sprinkled with occasional friction. In November, Shanmugam met with his Indonesian counterpart following reports the city-state helped countries including Australia spy on its neighbor. In June, Yudhoyono apologized for forest fires that led to haze in the city-state.
“Even without ill intent, how can the naming of the ship after two bombers build good ties or enhance mutual respect and regard with both our countries?” Ng said today. “On the contrary, a ship named Usman-Harun sailing on the high seas would unearth all the pain and sorrow caused by the MacDonald House bomb blasts which had been buried and put to rest.”
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