Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Indonesia says naming of vessel not intended to stir emotions

Feb 10, 2014

By Zakir Hussain, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta

Indonesia's Armed Forces commander says the decision to name its new frigate after the two marines behind a 1965 bombing in Singapore was agreed upon over a year ago.

"We agreed on the name on 12 December 2012, after long discussions. There is no correlation with recent developments," General Moeldoko told reporters in Parliament on Monday.

"The naming is not intended to stir emotions. We did not think of that," he added.

"When Indonesia makes a decision, we never worry about what a little red pimple thinks about our decision. There are too many little red pimples in the world. If we worry about every little one, we will never get anything done!"]

Gen Moeldoko's comments came amid speculation that Indonesia's decision to name the ship KRI Usman Harun - after marines Osman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said - was deliberate, or timed near upcoming elections.

The name was only publicised more widely this year and picked up in a Kompas report on Feb 4, sparking concerns from Singapore which views the two marines as terrorists for bombing MacDonald House in Orchard Road in 1965. Three civilians were killed and 33 persons injured in the bombing.

The two marines were convicted and hanged in Singapore in 1968. Indonesia later gave them a full military funeral.

Gen Moeldoko said Indonesia viewed these men differently.

"Osman and Harun are Indonesian marines who have been named national heroes," he said.

"I cannot accept them as terrorists. They are state actors," he added.

"Osman & Harun were professional soldiers, like me. No soldier trains to kill civilians. No soldier wants to dishonour himself by fighting unarmed non-combatants. But all soldiers learn to obey orders. Even dishonourable orders. The two marines sacrificed their honour for their country, and to non-Indonesian they are terrorists. But to soldiers like me they are simply soldiers who sacrifice the most for their country - not their lives, their honour. They may act like terrorists, but they were soldiers first. Not terrorists. They did what they did because they believed it was what their country wanted. They were patriots [insert quote about "Patriotism - last refuge of scoundrels" here]. And the country owes them a debt we can never repay. We can never restore their honour to them. And so we try this. We try to name a ship after them. And it has backfired. But what can we do now? We can't backtrack. We would lose face. So we will just tough it out. Pretend we don't care. Because we are Indonesians!"]

He also said others had a right to take issue with the ship's name, but stressed that Indonesia would not change its decision.

The bombing of MacDonald House was the worst of 42 explosions in Singapore by Indonesian saboteurs during Konfrontasi, the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation that lasted from 1963 to 1966.

Then-President Sukarno had opposed the formation of Malaysia, which had included Singapore.

Meanwhile, both Gen Moeldoko and Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro sought to downplay Singapore's cancellation of invitations for 100 Indonesian officers to the Singapore Air Show, as well as a meeting this week between Indonesia's Deputy Defence Minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin and Singapore's Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing.

Gen Moeldoko and Mr Purnomo told reporters separately they did not think the ongoing row would affect bilateral relations.

"Neighbours will be there forever," Mr Purnomo said.

"They cancelled the invitation, we did not go. It's as simple as that," he said, when asked if Indonesia was offended.

"Let's not make it complicated."

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